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Edited by CHARLES BALLY and 

In collaboration with 

Translated from the French by WADE BASKIN 


New York 



15 EAST 40th street, new YORK CITY 

Printed in the United States of America 







v^s- l=r^ 







Translator's Introduction xi 

Preface to the First Edition xiii 



I. A Glance at the History of Linguistics [v) 

II. Subject Matter and Scope of Linguistics ; Its Relations 

with Other Sciences 6 

III. Object of Linguistics 

1. Definition of Language 7 

2. Place of Language in the Facts of Speech ... 11 

3. Place of Language in Human Facts; Semiology . \i5{ 

IV. Linguistics of Language and Linguistics of Speaking . 17 
V. Internal and External Elements of Language . . . \.2Q 

VI. Graphic Representation of Language '"'^^ 

1. Need for Studying the Subject 23 

2. Influence of Writing; Reason for Its Ascendancy 
over the Spoken Form 23 

3. Systems of Writing 25 

4. Reasons for the DiscrepfUncy between Writing and 
Pronunciation 27 

5. Results of the Discrepancy 29 

VII. Phonology 

1. Definition 32 

2. Phonological Writing 33 

3. Validity of Evidence Furnished by Writing . . 34 






Chapter Page 

I. Phonological Species 

1. Definition of the Phoneme 38 

2. The Vocal Apparatus and its Functioning ... 41 

3. Classification of Sounds According to Their Oral 
Articulation 44 

11. Phonemes in the Spoken Chain 

L Need for Studying Sounds in the Spoken Chain . 49 

2. Implosion and Explosion 51 

3. Different Combinations of Explosions and Im- 
plosions in the Chain 54 

4. Syllabic Boundary and Vocalic Peak .... 57 

5. Criticism of Theories of Syllabication .... 58 

6. Length of Implosion and Explosion 60 

7. Phonemes of Aperture 4; Diphthongs; Questions 

about Transcription 60 

Editor's Note 62 



I. Nature of the Linguistic Sign r"^ 

1. Sign, Signified, Signifier 1 6 5j 

2. Principle I: The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign . \^ 

3. Principle II: The Linear Nature of the Signifier . 70 
11. Immutability and Mutability of the Sign ^ — ^ 

1. Immutability \ 71 

2. Mutability [JUj 

III. Static and Evolutionary Linguistics 

1. Inner Duality of All Sciences Concerned with 
Values 79 

2. Inner Duality and the History of Linguistics . . 81 

3. Inner Duality Illustrated by Examples .... 83 


Chapter Page 

4. The Difference between the Two Classes Illustrated 

by Comparisons 87 

5. The Two Linguistics Contrasted According to Their 
Methods and Principles 90 

6. Synchronic Law and Diachronic Law . . . . ' 91^ 

7. Is There a Panchronic Viewpoint? "95 

8. Consequences of the Confusing of Synchrony and 
Diachrony 96/ 

9. Conclusions 98 



I. Generalities 101 

11. The Concrete Entities of Language 

1. Definition of Entity and Unit 102 

2. Method of Delimitation 104 

3. Practical Difficulties of Delimitation .... 105 

4. Conclusion 106 

III. Identities, Realities, Values 107 , 

IV. Linguistic Value 

1. Language as Organized Thought Coupled with - ^ 
Sound rill 

2. Linguistic Value from a Conceptual Viewpoint . iJu4i 

3. Linguistic Value from a Material Viewpoint . . HZ 

4. The Sign Considered in Its Totality .... '>120} 
V. Syntagmatic and Associative Relations "" 

1. Definitions 122 

2. Syntagmatic Relations 124 

3. Associative Relations 125 

VI. Mechanism of Language 

1. Syntagmatic Solidarities 127 

2. Simultaneous Functioning of the Two Types of 
Groupings 1^8, 

3. Absolute and Relative Arbitrariness .... \131/ 


Chapter Page 

VII. Grammar and Its Subdivisions 

1. Definitions: Traditional Divisions 134 

2. Rational Divisions 136 

VIII. Role of Abstract Entities in Grammar 137 



I. Generalities 140 

II. Phonetic Changes 

1. Their Absolute Regularity 143 

2. Conditioned Phonetic Changes 144 

3. Points on Method 145 

4. Causes of Phonetic Changes 147 

5. The Effect of Phonetic Changes Is Unlimited . . 151 

III. Grammatical Consequences of Phonetic Evolution __ 

1. Breaking of the Grammatical Bond : ^^J 

2. Effacement of the Structure of Words .... flSi- 

3. There are No Phonetic Doublets 155 

4. Alternation 157 

5. Laws of Alternation 158 

6. Alternation and Grammatical Bond 160 

IV. Analogy 

1. Definition and Examples 161 

2. Analogical Phenomena Are Not Changes . . . 162 

3. Analogy as a Creative Force in Language . . . 165 
V. Analogy and Evolution 

1. How an Analogical Innovation Enters Language . ■168 

2. Analogical Innovations as Symptoms of Changes 

in Interpretation 169 

3. Analogy as a Renovating and Conservative Force 171 
VI. Folk Etymology 173 

VII. Agglutination 

1. Definition 176 

2. Agglutination and Analogy 177 


Chapter Page 

VIII. Diachronic Units, Identities, and Realities . . . 179 
Appendices to Parts Three and Four 

1. Subjective and Objective Analysis 173 

2. Subjective Analysis and the Defining of Subunits 185 

3. Etymology 189 



I. Concerning the Diversity of Languages .... 191 
II. Complications of Geographical Diversity 

1. Coexistence of Several Languages at the Same 
Point 193 

2. Literary Language and Local Idiom .... 195 

III. Causes of Geographical Diversity 

1. Time, the Basic Cause 197 

2. Effect of Time on Continuous Territory , . . 199 

3. Dialects Have No Natural Boundaries . . . 201 

4. Languages Have No Natural Boundaries . . . 203 

IV. Spread of Linguistic Waves 

1. Intercourse and Provincialism 205 

2. The Two Forces Reduced to One 207 

3. Linguistic Differentiation on Separate Territories 208 



I. The Two Perspectives of Diachronic Linguistics . . 212 
11. The Oldest Language and the Prototype .... 215 

III. Reconstructions 

1. Their Nature and Aim 218 

2. Relative Accuracy of Reconstructions .... 220 

IV. The Contribution of Language to Anthropology and 

1. Language and Race 222 

2. Ethnic Unity 223 


Chapter Page 

3. Linguistic Paleontology 224 

4. Linguistic Type and Mind of the Social Group . 227 
V. Language Families and Linguistic Types .... 228 

Index 233 


Few other figures in the history of the science of language have 
commanded such lasting respect and inspired such varied accom- 
phshments as Ferdinand de Saussure. Leonard Bloomfield justly 
credited the eminent Swiss professor with providing "a theoretic 
foundation to the newer trend in Unguistics study," and European 
scholars have seldom failed to consider his views when deaUng 
with any theoretical problem. But the full implications of his 
teachings, for both static and evolutionary studies, have still to 
be elaborated. 

Saussure succeeded in impressing his individual stamp on 
almost everything within his reach. At the age of twenty, while 
still a student at Leipzig, he published his monumental treatise 
on the Proto-Indo-European vocalic system. This treatise, though 
based on theories and facts that were common property in his 
day, is still recognized as the most inspired and exhaustive treat- 
ment of the Proto-Indo-European vocalism. He studied under 
the neogrammarians Osthoff and Leskien, yet refuted their atom- 
istic approach to linguistics in his attempt to frame a coherent 
science of linguistics. Despite the paucity of his publications (some 
600 pages during his lifetime), Saussure's influence has been far- 
reaching. At Paris, where he taught Sanskrit for ten years (1881- 
1891) and served as secretary of the Linguistic Society of Paris, 
his influence on the development of hnguistics was decisive. His 
first-hand studies of Phrygian inscriptions and Lithuanian dialects 
may have been responsible for some of the quahties that subse- 
quently endeared him to his students at the University of Geneva 
(1906-1911). His unique insight into the phenomenon of language 
brought to fruition the best of contemporary thinking and long 
years of patient investigation and penetrating thought. 

The dominant philosophical system of each age makes its 
imprint on each step in the evolution of linguistic science. The 
nineteenth century had a fragmentary approach to reality which 
prevented scholars from getting beyond the immediate facts in 


matters of speech. To those investigators, language was simply 
an inventory or mechanical sum of the units used in speaking. 
Piecemeal studies precluded the development of an insight into 
the structure (Gestalteinheit, pattern, or whole) into which the 
fragmentary facts fit. The atomistic conception of speech, reflected 
in the historical studies of the comparative philologists, had to 
give way to the functional and structural conception of language. 
Saussure was among the first to see that language is a self-con- 
tained system whose interdependent parts function and acquire 
value through their relationship to the whole. 

By focusing attention on the distinctly human side of speech, 
i.e. the system 'of language, Saussure gave unity and direction to 
his science. Until the publication of his work (later translated 
into German and Spanish), only those who enjoyed the privilege 
of close association with Saussure had access to his theories. By 
making available an English translation of his Course, I hope to 
contribute toward the reaUzation of his goal: the study of language 
in and for itself. 

To all those who have given generously of their time and talents 
in the preparation of this translation, I offer heartfelt thanks: to 
Gerald Dykstra, Daniel Girard, Lennox Grey, Aileen Kitchin, 
and Andr^ Martinet of Columbia University ; to Charles Bazell of 
Istanbul University; to Henri Frei, Robert Godel, and Edmond 
Sollberger of the University of Geneva ; to Dwight Bolinger of the 
University of Southern California; to Rulon Wells of Yale Uni- 
versity; and to my good friends Kenneth Jimenez, Paul Swart, 
and Hugh Whittemore. For the shortcomings of the translation, 
I alone am responsible. 

Wade Baskin 


We have often heard Ferdinand de Saussure lament the dearth of 
principles and methods that marked linguistics during his develop- 
mental period. Throughout his lifetime, he stubbornly continued 
to search out the laws that would give direction to his thought 
amid the chaos. Not until 1906, when he took the place of Joseph 
Wertheimer at the University of Geneva, was he able to make 
known the ideas that he had nurtured through so many years. 
Although he taught three courses in general hnguistics — in 1906- 
1907, 1908-1909, and 1910-1911— his schedule forced him to de- 
vote half of each course to the history and description of the Indo- 
European languages, with the result that the basic part of his 
subject received considerably less attention than it merited. 

All those who had the privilege of participating in his richly 
rewarding instruction regretted that no book had resulted from it. 
After his death, we hoped to find in his manuscripts, obligingly 
made available to us by Mme. de Saussure, a faithful or at least 
an adequate outline of his inspiring lectures. At first we thought 
that we might simply collate F. de Saussure's personal notes and 
the notes of his students. We were grossly misled. We found 
nothing — or almost nothing — that resembled his students' note- 
books. As soon as they had served their purpose, F. de Saussure 
destroyed the rough drafts of the outlines used for his lectures. In 
the drawers of his secretary we found only older outlines which, 
although certainly not worthless, could not be integrated into the 
material of the three courses. 

Our discovery was all the more disappointing since professorial 
duties had made it impossible for us to attend F. de Saussure's 
last lectures — and these mark just as brilliant a step in his career 
as the much earlier one that had witnessed the appearance of his 
treatise on the vocalic system of Proto-Indo-European. 

We had to fall back on the notes collected by students during 
the course of his three series of lectures. Very complete notebooks 
were placed at our disposal: for the first two courses, by Messrs. 


Louis Caille, Leopold Gautier, Paul Regard, and Albert Riedlinger; 
for the third — the most important — by Mme. Albert Sechehaye 
and by Messrs. George D^gallier and Francis Joseph. We are in- 
debted to M. Louis Brtitsch for notes on one special point. All these 
contributors deserve our sincere thanks. We also wish to express 
our profound gratitude to M. Jules Ronjat, the eminent Romance 
scholar, who was kind enough to review the manuscript before 
printing, and whose suggestions were invaluable. 

What were we to do with our materials? First, the task of 
criticism. For each course and for each detail of the course, we 
had to compare all versions and reconstruct F. de Saussure's 
thought from faint, sometimes conflicting, hints. For the first two 
courses we were able to enlist the services of M. RiedUnger, one 
of the students who have followed the thought of the master 
with the greatest interest; his work was most valuable. For the 
third course one of us, A. Sechehaye, performed the same detailed 
task of collating and synthesizing the material. 

But after that? Oral delivery, which is often contradictory in 
form to written exposition, posed the greatest difficulties. Besides, 
F. de Saussure was one of those men who never stand still; his 
thought evolved in all directions without ever contradicting itself 
as a result. To publish everything in the original form was impos- 
sible; the repetitions — inevitable in free oral presentation — over- 
lappings, and variant formulations would lend a motley appear- 
ance to such a publication. To limit the book to a single course — 
and which one? — was to deprive the reader of the rich and varied 
content of the other two courses; by itself the third, the most 
definitive of the three courses, would not give a complete account- 
ing of the theories and methods of F. de Saussure. 

One suggestion was that we publish certain particularly original 
passages without change. This idea was appealing at first, but 
soon it became obvious that we would be distorting the thought 
of our master if we presented but fragments of a plan whose value 
stands out only in its totality. 

We reached a bolder but also, we think, a more rational solution : 
to attempt a reconstruction, a synthesis, by using the third course 
as a starting point and by using all other materials at our disposal, 
including the personal notes of F. de Saussure, as supplementary 


sources. The problem of re-creating F. de Saussure's thought was 
all the more difficult because the re-creation had to be wholly 
objective. At each point we had to get to the crux of each particu- 
lar thought by trying to see its definitive form in the light of the 
whole system. We had first to weed out variations and irregu- 
larities characteristic of oral delivery, then to fit the thought into 
its natural framework and present each part of it in the order 
intended by the author even when his intention, not always 
apparent, had to be surmised. 

From this work of assimilation and reconstruction was born the 
book that we offer, not without apprehension, to the enlightened 
public and to all friends of linguistics. 

Our aim was to draw together an organic whole by omitting 
nothing that might contribute to the overall impression. But for 
that very reason, we shall probably be criticized on two counts. 

First, critics will say that this "whole" is incomplete. In his 
teaching the master never pretended to examine all parts of lin- 
guistics or to devote the same attention to each of those examined ; 
materially, he could not. Besides, his main concern was not that. 
Guided by some fundamental and personal principles which are 
found everywhere in his work — and which form the woof of this 
fabric which is as solid as it is varied — he tried to penetrate ; only 
where these principles find particularly striking applications or 
where they apparently conflict with some theory did he try to 

That is why certain disciplines, such as semantics, are hardly 
touched upon. We do not feel that these lacunae detract from the 
overall architecture. The absence of a "hnguistics of speaking" is 
regrettable. This study, which had been promised to the students 
of the third course, would doubtlessly have had a place of honor; 
why his promise could not be kept is too well known. All we could 
do was to collect the fleeting impressions from the rough outlines 
of this project and put them into their natural place. 

Conversely, critics may say that we have reproduced facts 
bearing on points developed by F. de Saussure's predecessors. Not 
everything in such an extensive treatise can be new. But if known 
principles are necessary for the understanding of a whole, shall we 
be condemned for not having omitted them? The chapter on 


phonetic changes, for example, includes things that have been 
said before, and perhaps more definitively; but, aside from the 
fact that this part contains many valuable and original details, 
even a superficial reading will show to what extent its omission 
would detract from an understanding of the principles upon which 
F. de Saussure erects his system of static hnguistics. 

We are aware of our responsibility to our critics. We are also 
aware of our responsibility to the author, who probably would not 
have authorized the publication of these pages. 

This responsibility we accept wholly, and we would willingly 
bear it alone. Will the critics be able to distinguish between the 
teacher and his interpreters? We would be grateful to them if they 
would direct toward us the blows which it would be unjust to heap 
upon one whose memory is dear to us. 

Geneva, July 1915. Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye 


The second edition is essentially the same as the first. The 
editors have made some slight changes designed to facilitate 
reading and clarify certain points. Ch. B. Alb. S. 


With the exception of a few minute corrections, this edition is 
the same as the preceding. Ch. B. Alb. S. 


Chapter I 

The science that has been developed around the facts of language 
passed through three stages before finding its true and unique 

First something called "grammar" was studied. This study, in- 
itiated by the Greeks and continued mainly by the French, was 
based on logic. It lacked a scientific approach and was detached 
from language itself. Its only aim was to give rules for distinguish- 
ing between correct and incorrect forms; it was a normative dis- 
cipHne, far removed from actual observation, and its scope was 

Next appeared philology. A "philological" school had existed 
much earlier in Alexandria, but this name is more often applied 
to the scientific movement which was started by Friedrich August 
Wolf in 1777 and which continues to this day. Language is not its 
sole object. The early philologists sought especially to correct, 
interpret and comment upon written texts. Their studies also led 
to an interest in literary history, customs, institutions, etc.^ They 
apphed the methods of criticism for their own purposes. When 
they dealt with linguistic questions, it was for the express purpose 
of comparing texts of different periods, determining the language 
peculiar to eacK^auihor, or deciphering and explaining inscriptions 
made in an archaic or obscure language. Doubtless these investi- 
gations broke the ground for historical linguistics. Rit^chl'^studies 
of Plautus are actually linguistic.\put philological criticism is still 
deficient on one point: it follows the written language too slavishly 

1 At the risk of offending some readers, certain stylistic characteristics of 
the original French are retained. [Tr.] (The bracketed abbreviations S., Ed. 
and Tr. indicate whether footnotes are to be attributed to Saussure, to the 
editors of the Cours de linguistique generale, or to the translator.) 



and neglects the living language. Moreover, it is concerned with 
little except Greek and Latin antiquity. 

The third stage began when scholars discovered that languages 
can be compared with one another. This discovery was the origin 
of "comparative philology." In 1816, in a work entitled tJher das 
Conjugationssijstem der Sanskritsprache, Franz Bopp compared 
Sanskrit with German, Greek, Latin, etc. Bopp was not the first 
to record their similarities and state that all these languages belong 
to a single family. That had been done before him, notably by the 
English orientalist W. Jones (died in 1794) ; but Jones' few isolated 
statements do not prove that the significance and importance of 
comparison had been generally understood before 1816. While 
Bopp cannot be credited with the discovery that Sanskrit is re- 
lated to certain languages of Europe and Asia, he did realize that 
the comparison of related languages could become the subject 
matter of an independent science. To illuminate one language by 
means of another, to explain the forms of one through the forms 
of the other, that is what no one had done before him. 

Whether Bopp could have created his science — so quickly at 
least — without the prior discovery of Sanskrit is doubtful. With 
Sanskrit as a third witness beside Latin and Greek, Bopp had a 
larger and firmer basis for his studies. Fortunately, Sanskrit was 
exceptionally well-fitted to the role of illuminating the comparison. 

For example, a comparison of the paradigms of Latin genus 
(genus, generis, genere, genera, generum, etc.) and Greek (genos, 
gineos, genei, genea, geneon, etc.) reveals nothing. But the picture 
changes as soon as we add the corresponding Sanskrit series (ganas, 
ganasas, ganasi, ganasu, ^anasdm, etc.). A glance reveals the simi- 
larity between the Greek forms and the Latin forms. If we ac- 
cept tentatively the hypothesis that ^anas represents the primi- 
tive state — and this step facilitates explanation — then we conclude 
that s must have fallen in Greek forms wherever it occurred be- 
tween two vowels. Next we conclude that s became r in Latin under 
the same conditions. Grammatically, then, the Sanskrit paradigm 
exemplifies the concept of radical, a unit (ganas) that is quite 
definite and stable. Latin and Greek had the same forms as San- 
skrit only in their earlier stages. Here Sanskrit is instructive pre- 
cisely because it has preserved all the Indo-European s's. Of course 


Sanskrit failed in other respects to preserve the features of the 
prototype; for instance, it had completely revolutionized the vo- 
caHc system. But in general the original elements that Sanskrit has 
preserved are remarkably helpful in research — and fate decreed 
that it was to clarify many points in the study of other languages. 

Other distinguished linguists soon added to the contribution of 
Bopp : Jacob Grimm, the founder of Germanic studies (his Deutsche 
Grammatik was published from 1822 to 1836) ; Pott, whose etymo- 
logical studies made a considerable amount of material available 
to linguists; Kuhn, whose works dealt with both linguistics 
and comparative mythology; the Indie scholars Benfey and 
Aufrecht, etc. 

Finally, among the last representatives of the school, Max 
Miiller, G. Curtius, and August Schleicher deserve special atten- 
tion. In different ways, all three did much to advance comparative 
studies. Max Miiller popularized them in his brilliant discussions 
{Lessons in the Science of Language, 1861) ; but his failing was a 
certain lack of conscientiousness. Curtius, a distinguished philol- 
ogist known especially for his Grundziige der griechischen Etymologie 
(1879), was one of the first to reconcile comparative philology with 
classical philology. The latter had watched the progress of the new 
science suspiciously, and each school had mistrusted the other. 
Schleicher was the first to try to codify the results of piecemeal 
investigations. His Compendium der vergleichenden Grammatik der 
indogermanischen Sprachen (1861-62) is more or less a systemiza- 
tion of the science founded by Bopp. His book, with its long record 
of service, recalls better than any other the broad outlines of the 
comparative school, which is the first chapter in the history of 
Indo-European linguistics. 

But the comparative school, which had the indisputable merit 
of opening up a new and fruitful lield, did aot succeed in setting up 
the true science of linguistics.* It failed to seek out the natureoTiIs^ 
object of study. Obviously, without this elementary step, no 
teg ience can develop a method. 

The first mistake t)f the comparative philologists was also the 
source of all their other mistakes. In their investigations (which em- 
braced only the Indo-European languages), they never asked them- 
selves the meaning of their comparisons or the significance of the 


relations that they discovered. Their method was exclusively com- 
parative, not historical. Of course comparison is required for any 
historical reconstruction, but by itself it cannot be conclusive. And 
the conclusion was all the more elusive whenever the comparative 
philologists looked upon the development of two languages as a 
naturahst might look upon the growth of two plants. For example 
Schleicher, who always invites us to start from Proto-Indo-Euro- 
pean and thus seems in a sense to be a confirmed historian, has no 
hesitancy in saying that Greek e and o are two grades (Stufen) of 
the vocalic system. This is because Sanskrit has a system of vocahc 
alternations that suggests the notion of grades. Schleicher supposed 
that each language has to pass through those grades separately and 
in exactly the same way, just as plants of the same species pass 
through the same developmental stages independently of one 
another, and saw a reinforced grade of e in Greek o and a reinforced 
grade of a in Sanskrit a. The fact is that a Proto-Indo-European 
alternation was reflected differently in Greek and in Sanskrit with- 
out there being any necessary equivalence between the gram- 
matical effects produced in either language (see pp. 158 ff.). 

The exclusively comparative method brought in a set of false 
notions. Having no basis in reality, these notions simply could not 
reflect the facts of speech. Language was considered a specific 
sphere, a fourth natural kingdom ; this led to methods of reasoning 
which would have caused astonishment in other sciences. Today 
one cannot read a dozen lines written at that time without being 
struck by absurdities of reasoning and by the terminology used 
to justify these absurdities. 

But from the viewpoint of methodology, the mistakes of the 
comparative philologists are not without value; the mistakes of an 
infant science give a magnified picture of those made by anyone in 
the first stages of scientific research, and I shall have occasion to 
point out several of them in the course of this exposition. 

Not until around 1870 did scholars begin to seek out the prin- 
ciples that govern the life of languages. Then they began to see 
that similarities between languages are only one side of the lin- 
guistic phenomenon, that comparison is only a means or method of 
reconstructing the facts. 

Linguistics proper, which puts comparative studies in their 


proper place, owes its origin to the study of the Romance and 
Germanic languages. Romance studies, begun by Diez — his Gram- 
matik der romanischen Sprachen dates from 1836-38 — were in- 
strumental in bringing linguistics nearer to its true object. For 
Romance scholars enjoyed privileged conditions that were un- 
known to Indo-European scholars. They had direct access to Latin, 
the prototype of the Romance languages, and an abundance of 
texts allowed them to trace in detail the evolution of the different 
dialects; these two circumstances narrowed the field of conjecture 
and provided a remarkably solid frame for all their research. 
Germanic scholars were in a similar situation. Though they could 
not study the prototype directly, numerous texts enabled them to 
trace the history of the languages derived from Proto-Germanic 
through the course of many centuries. The Germanic scholars, 
coming to closer grips with reality than had the first Indo-Euro- 
pean scholars, reached different conclusions. 

A first impetus was given by the American scholar Whitney, the 
author of Life and Growth of Language (1875). Shortly afterwards 
a new school was formed by the neogrammarians (Junggram- 
matiker), whose leaders were all Germans: K. Brugmann and H. 
Osthoff; the Germanic scholars W. Braune, E. Sievers, H. Paul; 
the Slavic scholar Leskien, etc. Their contribution was in placing 
the results of comparative studies in their historical perspective- , 
and thus linking the facts in their natural order.- Thanks to them, 
language is no longer looked upon as an organism that develops 
independently but as a product of the collective mind of linguistic 
, groups.yA't the same time scholars realized how erroneous and in- 
Tsufficient were the notions of philology and comparative philology.^ 
Still, in spite of the services that they rendered, the neogram- 
marians did not illuminate the whole question, and the funda- 
mental problems of general linguistics still await solution. 

* The new school, using a more reahstic approach than had its predecessor, 
fought the terminology of the comparative school, and especially the illogical 
metaphors that it used. One no longer dared to say, "Language does this or 
that," or "life of language," etc. since language is not an entity and exists 
only within speakers. One must not go too far, however, and a compromise 
is in order. Certain metaphors are indispensable. To require that only words 
that correspond to the facts of speech be used is to pretend that these facts 
no longer perplex us. This is by no means true, and in some instances I shall 
not hesitate to use one of the expressions condemned at that time. [S.] 


Chapter II 


The subject matter of linguistics comprises all manifestations of 
human speech, whether that of savages or civilized nations, or of 
archaic, classical or decadent periods. In each period the linguist 
must consider not only correct speech and flowery language, but all 
other forms of expression as well. And that is not all: since he is 
often unable to observe speech directly, he must consider written 
texts, for only through them can he reach idioms that are remote 
in time or space. 

The scope of linguistics should be : 

a) to describe and trace the history of all observable languages, 
which amounts to tracing the history of families of languages and 
reconstructing as far as possible the mother language of each 

6) to determine the forces that are permanently and universally 
at work in all languages, and to deduce the general laws to which 
all specific historical phenomena can be reduced; arid 

c) to delimit and define itself. 

Linguistics is very closely related to other sciences that some- 
times borrow from its data, sometimes supply it with data. The 
lines of demarcation do not always show up clearly. For instance, 
linguistics must be carefully distinguished from ethnography and 
prehistory, where language is used merely to document. It must 
also be set apart from anthropology, which studies man solely from 
the viewpoint of his species, for language is a social fact. But must 
linguistics then be combined with sociology? What are the relation- 
ships between linguistics and social psychology? Everything in 
language is basically psychological, including its material and 
mechanical manifestations, such as sound changes; and since lin- 
guistics provides social psychology with such valuable data, is it 


not part and parcel of this discipline? Here I shall raise many sim- 
ilar questions ; later I shall treat them at greater length. 

The ties between linguistics and the physiology of sounds are 
less difficult to untangle. The relation is unilateral in the sense that 
the study of languages exacts clarifications from the science of the 
physiology of sounds but furnishes none in return. In any event, 
the two disciplines cannot be confused. The thing that constitutes 
language is, as I shall show later, unrelated to the phonic character 
of the linguistic sign. 

As for philology, we have already drawn the line: it is distinct 
from linguistics despite points of contact between the two sciences 
and mutual services that they render. 

Finally, of what use is linguistics? Very few people have clear 
ideas on this point, and this is not the place to specify them. But it 
is evident, for instance, that linguistic questions interest all who 
work with texts — historians, philologists, etc. Still more obvious is 
the importance of linguistics to general culture: in the lives of 
individuals and societies, speech is more important than anything 
else. That linguistics should continue to be the prerogative of a few 
specialists would be unthinkable — everyone is concerned with it in 
one way or another. But — and this is a paradoxical consequence of 
the interest that is fixed on hnguistics — there is no other field in 
which so many absurd notions, prejudices, mirages, and fictions 
have sprung up. From the psychological viewpoint these errors 
are of interest, but the task of the linguist is, above all else, to 
condemn them and to dispel them as best he can. 

Chapter III 


1. Definition of Language 

What is both the integral and concrete object of linguistics? The 
question is especially difficult; later we shall see why; here I wish 
merely to point up the difficulty. 


Other sciences work with objects that are given in advance and 
that can then be considered from different viewpoints; but not 
Hnguistics. Someone pronounces the French word nu 'bare': a 
superficial observer would be tempted to call the word a concrete 
linguistic object; but a more careful examination would reveal 
successively three or four quite different things, depending on 
whether the word is considered as a sound, as the expression of an 
idea, as the equivalent of Latin nudum, etc. Far from it being the 
object that antedates the viewpoint, it would seem that it is the 
viewpoint that creates the object; besides, nothing tells us in 
advance that one way of considering the fact in question takes 
precedence over the others or is in any way superior to them. 

Moreover, regardless of the viewpoint that we adopt, the lin- 
guistic phenomenon always has two related sides, each deriving its 
values from the other. For example : 

1) Articulated syllables are acoustical impressions perceived by 
the ear, but the sounds would not exist without the vocal organs ; 
an n, for example, exists only by virtue of the relation between the 
two sides. We simply cannot reduce language to sound or detach 
sound from oral articulation; reciprocally, we cannot define the 
movements of the vocal organs without taking into account the 
acoustical impression (see pp. 38 ff.). 

2) But suppose that sound were a simple thing: would it consti- 
tute speech? No, it is only the instrument of thought; by itself, it 
has no existence. At this point a new and redoubtable relationship 
arises: a sound, a complex acoustical-vocal unit, combines in turn 
with an idea to form a complex physiological-psychological unit. 
But that is still not the complete picture. 

3) Speech has both an individual and a social side, and we can- 
not conceive of one without the other. Besides : 

4) Speech always implies both an established system and an 
evolution; at every moment it is an existing institution and a 
product of the past. To distinguish between the system and its 
history, between what it is and what it was, seems very simple at 
first glance ; actually the two things are so closely related that we 
can scarcely keep them apart. Would we simplify the question by 
studying the linguistic phenomenon in its earliest stages — if we 


began, for example, by studying the speech of children? No, for in 
dealing with speech, it is completely misleading to assume that the 
problem of early characteristics differs from the problem of per- 
manent characteristics. We are left inside the vicious circle. 

From whatever direction we approach the question, nowhere do 
we find the integral object of linguistics. Everywhere we are con- 
fronted with a dilemma : if we fix our attention on only one side of 
each problem, we run the risk of failing to perceive the dualities 
pointed out above; on the other hand, if we study speech from 
several viewpoints simultaneously, the object of linguistics appears 
to us as a confused mass of heterogeneous and unrelated things. 
Either procedure opens the door to several sciences — psychology, 
anthropology, normative grammar, philology, etc. — which are 
distinct from linguistics, but which might claim speech, in view of 
the faulty method of linguistics, as one of their objects. 

As I see it there is only one solution to all the foregoing difl5- 
culties : from the very outset we must put both feet on the ground of 
language and use language as the norm of all other manifestations of 
speech. Actually, among so many dualities, language alone seems 
to lend itself to independent definition and provide a fulcrum that 
satisfies the mind. 

But what is language [Zangwe]? It is not to be confused with 
human speech [langage], of which it is only a definite part, though 
certainly an essential one. It is both a social product of the faculty 
of speech and a collection of necessary conventions that have been 
adopted by a social body to permit individuals to exercise that 
faculty. Taken as a whole, speech is many-sided and heterogene- 
ous; straddling several areas simultaneously — physical, physio- 
logical, and psychological — it belongs both to the individual and 
to society ; we cannot put it into any category of human facts, for 
we cannot discover its unity. 

Language, on the contrary, is a seK-contained whole and a prin- 
ciple of classification. As soon as we give language first place among 
the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that 
lends itself to no other classification. 

One might object to that principle of classification on the ground 
that since the use of speech is based on a natural faculty whereas 


language is something acquired and conventional, language should 
not take first place but should be subordinated to the natural 

That objection is easily refuted. 

First, no one has proved that speech, as it manifests itself when 
we speak, is entirely natural, i.e. that our vocal apparatus was 
designed for speaking just as our legs were designed for walking. 
Linguists are far from agreement on this point. For instance Whit- 
ney, to whom language is one of several social institutions, thinks 
that we use the vocal apparatus as the instrument of language 
purely through luck, for the sake of convenience: men might just 
as well have chosen gestures and used visual symbols instead of 
acoustical symbols. Doubtless his thesis is too dogmatic ; language 
is not similar in all respects to other social institutions (see p. 73 f . 
and p. 75 f.); moreover, Whitney goes too far in saying that our 
choice happened to fall on the vocal organs; the choice was more 
or less imposed by nature. But on the essential point the American 
linguist is right: language is a convention, and the nature of the 
sign that is agreed upon does not matter. The question of the vocal 
apparatus obviously takes a secondary place in the problem of 

One definition of articulated speech might confirm that conclusion. 
In Latin, articulus means a member, part, or subdivision of a 
sequence ; applied to speech, articulation designates either the sub- 
division of a spoken chain into syllables or the subdivision of the 
chain of meanings into significant units ; gegliederte Sprache is used 
in the second sense in German. Using the second definition, we can 
say that what is natural to mankind is not oral speech but the 
faculty of constructing a language, i.e. a system of distinct signs 
corresponding to distinct ideas. 

Broca discovered that the faculty of speech is localized in the 
third left frontal convolution ; his discovery has been used to sub- 
stantiate the attribution of a natural quality to speech. But we 
know that the same part of the brain is the center of everything that 
has to do with speech, including writing. The preceding statements, 
together with observations that have been made in different cases 
of aphasia resulting from lesion of the centers of localization, seem 
to indicate: (1) that the various disorders of oral speech are bound 


up in a hundred ways with those of written speech; and (2) that 
what is lost in all cases of aphasia or agraphia is less the faculty of 
producing a given sound or writing a given sign than the ability to 
evoke by means of an instrument, regardless of what it is, the signs 
of a regular system of speech. The obvious implication is that 
beyond the functioning of the various organs there exists a more 
general faculty which governs signs and which would be the 
linguistic faculty proper. And this brings us to the same conclusion 
as above. 

To give language first place in the study of speech, we can ad- 
vance a final argument : the faculty of articulating words — ^whether 
it is natural or not — is exercised only with the help of the instru- 
ment created by a collectivity and provided for its use; therefore, 
to say that language gives unity to speech is not fanciful. 

2. Place of Language in the Facts of Speech 

In order to separate from the whole of speech the part that be- 
longs to language, we must examine the individual act from which 
the speaking-circuit can be reconstructed. The act requires the 
presence of at least two persons; that is the minimum number 
necessary to complete the circuit. Suppose that two people, A and 
B, are conversing with each other : 

»•- n^, j^jjir-'* 

Suppose that the opening of the circuit is in A's brain, where 
mental facts (concepts) are associated with representations of the 
linguistic sounds (sound-images) that are used for their expression. 
A given concept unlocks a corresponding sound-image in the brain ; 
this purely psychological phenomenon is followed in turn by a 
physiological process : the brain transmits an impulse corresponding 


to the image to the organs used in producing sounds. Then the 
sound waves travel from the mouth of A to the ear of B : a purely 
physical process. Next, the circuit continues in B, but the order is 
reversed: from the ear to the brain, the physiological transmission 
of the sound-image; in the brain, the psychological association of 
the image with the corresponding concept. If B then speaks, the 
new act will follow — from his brain to A's — exactly the same course 
as the first act and pass through the same successive phases, which 
I shall diagram as follows : 

Audition Phonatlon 

«C < 

c = concept 

s =z sound-Image 


Phonation Audition 

The preceding analysis does not purport to be complete. We 
might also single out the pure acoustical sensation, the identifi- 
cation of that sensation with the latent sound-image, the muscular 
image of phonation, etc. I have included only the elements thought 
to be essential, but the drawing brings out at a glance the distinc- 
tion between the physical (sound waves), physiological (phonation 
and audition), and psychological parts (word-images and con- 
cepts). Indeed, we should not fail to note that the word-image 
stands apart from the sound itself and that it is just as psycho- 
logical as the concept which is associated with it. 

The circuit that I have outlined can be further divided into: 

a) an outer part that includes the vibrations of the sounds which 
travel from the mouth to the ear, and an inner part that includes 
everything else ; 

h) a psychological and a nonpsychological part, the second in- 
cluding the physiological productions of the vocal organs as well 
as the physical facts that are outside the individual ; 


c) an active and a passive part: everything that goes from the 
associative center of the speaker to the ear of the hstener is active, 
and everything that goes from the ear of the hstener to his associ- 
ative center is passive; 

d) finally, everything that is active in the psychological part of 
the circuit is executive {c -^ s), and everything that is passive is 
receptive (s — > c). 

We should also add the associative and co-ordinating faculty 
that we find as soon as we leave isolated signs; this faculty plays 
the dominant role in the organization of language as a system (see 
pp. 122 ff.)- 

But to understand clearly the role of the associative and co- 
ordinating faculty, we must leave the individual act, which is only 
the embryo of speech, and approach the social fact. 

Among all the individuals that are linked together by speech, 
some sort of average will be set up : all will reproduce — not exactly 
of course, but approximately — the same signs united with the 
same concepts. 

How does the social crystallization of language come about? 
Which parts of the circuit are involved? For all parts probably do 
not participate equally in it. 

The nonpsychological part can be rejected from the outset. 
When we hear people speaking a language that we do not know, 
we perceive the sounds but remain outside the social fact because 
we do not understand them. 

Neither is the psychological part of the circuit wholly respon- 
sible: the executive side is missing, for execution is never carried 
out by the collectivity. Execution is always individual, and the 
individual is always its master: I shall call the executive side 
speaking [parole]. 

Through the functioning of the receptive and co-ordinating 
faculties, impressions that are perceptibly the same for all are made 
on the minds of speakers. How can that social product be pictured 
in such a way that language will stand apart from everything else? 
If we could embrace the sum of word-images stored in the minds 
of all individuals, we could identify the social bond that consti- 
tutes language. It is a storehouse filled by the members of a given 
community through their active use of speaking, a grammatical 


system that has a potential existence in each brain, or, more 
specifically, in the brains of a group of individuals. For language 
is not complete in any speaker; it exists perfectly only within a 

In separating language from speaking we are at the same time 
separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what 
is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental. 

Language is not a function of the speaker ; it is a product that is 
passively assimilated by the individual. It never requires premedi- 
tation, and reflection enters in only for the purpose of classification, 
which we shall take up later (pp. 122 ff.). 

— Speaking, on the contrary, is an individual act. It is wilful and 
intellectual. Within the act, we should distinguish between: (1) the 
combinations by which the speaker uses the language code for 
expressing his own thought; and (2) the psychophysical mecha- 
nism that allows him to exteriorize those combinations. 

Note that I have defined things rather than words ; these defini- 
tions are not endangered by certain ambiguous words that do not 
have identical meanings in different languages. For instance, 
German Sprache means both "language" and "speech"; Rede 
almost corresponds to "speaking" but adds the special connotation 
of "discourse." Latin sermo designates both "speech" and "speak- 
ing," while lingua means "language," etc. No word corresponds 
exactly to any of the notions specified above ; that is why all defini- 
tions of words are made in vain; starting from words in defining 
things is a bad procedure. 

To summarize, these are the characteristics of language : 

1) Language is a well-defined object in the heterogeneous mass 
of speech facts. It can be localized in the limited segment of the 
speaking-circuit where an auditory image becomes associated with 
a concept. It is the social side of speech, outside the individual who 
can never create nor modify it by himself; it exists only by virtue 
of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community. More- 
over, the individual must always serve an apprenticeship in order 
to learn the functioning of language; a child assimilates it only 
gradually. It is such a distinct thing that a man deprived of the 
use of speaking retains it provided that he understands the vocal 
signs that he hears. 


2) Language, unlike speaking, is something that we can study- 
separately. Although dead languages are no longer spoken, we can 
easily assimilate their linguistic organisms. We can dispense with 
the other elements of speech; indeed, the science of language is 
possible only if the other elements are excluded. 

3) Whereas speech is heterogeneous, language, as defined, is 
homogeneous. It is a system of signs in which the only essential 
thing is the union of meanings and sound-images, and in which 
both parts of the sign are psychological. 

4) Language is concrete, no less so than speaking; and this is a 
help in our study of it. Linguistic signs, though basically psycho- 
logical, are not abstractions; associations which bear the stamp of 
collective approval — and which added together constitute language 
— are realities that have their seat in the brain. Besides, linguistic 
signs are tangible; it is possible to reduce them to conventional 
written sjonbols, whereas it would be impossible to provide de- 
tailed photographs of acts of speaking [actes de parole] ; the pro- 
nunciation of even the smallest word represents an infinite number 
of muscular movements that could be identified and put into 
graphic form only with great difficulty. In language, on the con- 
trary, there is only the sound-image, and the latter can be trans- 
lated into a fixed visual image. For if we disregard the vast number 
of movements necessary for the realization of sound-images in 
speaking, we see that each sound-image is nothing more than the 
sum of a limited number of elements or phonemes that can in turn 
be called up by a corresponding number of written symbols (see 
pp. 61 ff.). The very possibihty of putting the things that relate 
to language into graphic form allows dictionaries and grammars to 
represent it accurately, for language is a storehouse of sound- 
images, and writing is the tangible form of those images. 

3. Place of Language in Human Facts: Semiology 

The foregoing characteristics of language reveal an even more 
important characteristic. Language, once its boundaries have been 
marked off within the speech data, can be classified among human 
phenomena, whereas speech cannot. 

We have just seen that language is a social institution; but sev- 
eral features set it apart from other political, legal, etc. institutions. 


We must call in a new type of facts in order to illuminate the 
special nature of language. 

Language is a system of signs that express ideas, and is therefore 
comparable to a system of writing, the alphabet of deaf-mutes, 
S5Tnbolic rites, polite formulas, military signals, etc. But it is the 
most important of all these systems. 

A science that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable ; 
it would be a part of social psychology and consequently of general 
psychology; I shall call it semiology^ (from Greek semeion 'sign'). 
Semiology would show what constitutes signs, what laws govern 
them. Since the science does not yet exist, no one can say what it 
would be ; but it has a right to existence, a place staked out in ad- 
vance. Linguistics is only a part of the general science of semiology; 
the laws discovered by semiology will be applicable to linguistics, 
and the latter will circumscribe a well-defined area within the mass 
of anthropological facts. 

To determine the exact place of semiology is the task of the 
psychologist.'* The task of the linguist is to find out what makes 
language a special system within the mass of semiological data. 
This issue will be taken up again later; here I wish merely to call 
attention to one thing : if I have succeeded in assigning linguistics a 
place among the sciences, it is because I have related it to semi- 

Why has semiology not yet been recognized as an independent 
science with its own object like all the other sciences? Linguists 
have been going around in circles : language, better than anything 
else, offers a basis for understanding the semiological problem ; but 
language must, to put it correctly, be studied in itself; heretofore 
language has almost always been studied in connection with some- 
thing else, from other viewpoints. 

There is first of all the superficial notion of the general public : 
people see nothing more than a name-giving system in language 
(see p. 65), thereby prohibiting any research into its true nature. 

' Semiology should not be confused with semantics, which studies changes in 
meaning, and which Saussure did not treat methodically; the fundamental 
principle of semantics is formulated on page 75. [Ed.] 

* Cf. A. NaviUe, Classification des Sciences, (2nd. ed.), p. 104. [Ed.] The 
scope of semiology (or semiotics) is treated at length in Charles Morris' 
Signs, Language and Behavior (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1946). [Tr.] 


Then there is the viewpoint of the psychologist, who studies the 
sign-mechanism in the individual; this is the easiest method, but 
it does not lead beyond individual execution and does not reach 
the sign, which is social. 

Or even when signs are studied from a social viewpoint, only the 
traits that attach language to the other social institutions — those 
that are more or less voluntary — are emphasized; as a result, the 
goal is by-passed and the specific characteristics of semiological 
systems in general and of language in partichlar-ace. completely 
ignored,/ I^orTFe distinguishing characteristic of the sign— but the"^) 
one that is least apparent at first sight — is that in some way it '' 
arv^a.yb' eludBSHfeheJndividual or .social will. 

In short, the characteristic that distinguishes semiological sys- 
tems from all other institutions shows up clearly only in language 
where it manifests itself in the things which are studied least, and 
the necessity or specific value of a semiological science is therefore 
not clearly recognized. But to me the language problem is mainly 
semiological, and all developments derive their significance from 
that important fact. If we are to discover the true nature of lan- 
guage we must learn what it has in common with all other semi- 
ological systems; linguistic forces that seem very important at 
first glance (e.g., the role of the vocal apparatus) will receive only 
secondary consideration if they serve only to set language apart 
from the other systems. This procedure will do more than to 
clarify the linguistic problem. By studying rites, customs, etc. as 
signs, I believe that we shall throw new light on the facts and point / 
up the need for including them in a science of semiology and 
explaining them by its laws. 

Chapter IV 


In setting up the science of language within the overall study of 
speech, I have also outlined the whole of linguistics. All other ele- 


merits of speech — those that constitute speaking — freely subordi- 
nate themselves to the first science, and it is by virtue of this sub- 
ordination that the parts of linguistics find their natural place. 

Consider, for example, the production of sounds necessary for 
speaking. The vocal organs are as external to language as are the 
electrical devices used in transmitting the Morse code to the code 
itself; and phonation, i.e., the execution of sound-images, in no way 
affects the system itself. Language is comparable to a symphony 
in that what the sjnnphony actually is stands completely apart 
from how it is performed; the mistakes that musicians make in 
playing the symphony do not compromise this fact. 

An argument against separating phonation from language might 
be phonetic changes, the alterations of the sounds which occur in 
speaking and which exert such a profound influence on the future 
of language itself. Do we really have the right to pretend that lan- 
guage exists independently of phonetic changes? Yes, for they 
affect only the material substance of words. If they attack language 
as a system of signs, it is only indirectly, through subsequent 
changes of interpretation; there is nothing phonetic in the phe- 
nomenon (see p. 84). Determining the causes of phonetic changes 
may be of interest, and the study of sounds will be helpful on this 
point ; but none of this is essential : in the science of language, all 
we need do is to observe the transformations of sounds and to 
calculate their effects. 

What I have said about phonation applies to all other parts of 
speaking. The activity of the speaker should be studied in a num- 
ber of disciplines which have no place in linguistics except through 
their relation to language. 

The study of speech is then twofold : its basic part — ^having as its 
object language, which is purely social and independent of the 
individual — is exclusively psychological ; its secondary part — which 
has as its object the individual side of speech, i.e. speaking, includ- 
ing phonation — is psychophysical. 

Doubtless the two objects are closely connected, each depending 
on the other : language is necessary if speaking is to be intelligible 
and produce all its effects; but speaking is necessary for the estab- 
lishment of language, and historically its actuality always comes 
first. How would a speaker take it upon himself to associate an idea 


with a word-image if he had not first come across the association in 
an act of speaking? Moreover, we learn our mother language by 
listening to others; only after countless experiences is it deposited 
in our brain. Finally, speaking is what causes language to evolve: 
impressions gathered from listening to others modify our linguistic 
habits. Language and speaking are then interdependent ; the former 
is both the instrument and the product of the latter. But their 
interdependence does not prevent their being two absolutely 
distinct things. 

Language exists in the form of a sum of impressions deposited in 
the brain of each member of a community, almost like a dictionary 
of which identical copies have been distributed to each individual 
(see p. 13). Language exists in each individual, yet is common to 
all. Nor is it affected by the will of the depositaries. Its mode of 
existence is expressed by the formula: 

1 + 1 + 1 + 1... = 1 (collective pattern) 

What part does speaking play in the same community? It is the 
sum of what people say and includes : (a) individual combinations 
that depend on the will of speakers, and (b) equally wilful pho- 
national acts that are necessary for the execution of these com- 

Speaking is thus not a collective instrument; its manifestations 
are individual and momentary. In speaking there is only the sum of 
particular acts, as in the formula : 

(1 + r + 1" + 1'". . .) 

For all the foregoing reasons, to consider language and speaking 
from the same viewpoint would be fanciful. Taken as a whole, 
speech cannot be studied, for it is not homogeneous; but the dis- 
tinction and subordination proposed here clarify the whole issue. 

Such is the first bifurcation that we find in trying to formulate 
the theory of speech. We must choose between two routes that 
cannot be followed simultaneously; they must be followed 

One might if really necessary apply the term linguistics to each 
of the two disciplines and speak of a linguistics of speaking. But 


that science must not be confused with Hnguistics proper, whose 
sole object is language. 

I shall deal only with linguistics of language, and if I sub- 
sequently use material belonging to speaking to illustrate a point, 
I shall try never to erase the boundaries that separate the two 

Chapter V 


My definition of language presupposes the exclusion of everything 
that is outside its organism or system — in a word, of everything 
known as "external linguistics." But external linguistics deals with 
many important things — the very ones that we think of when we 
begin the study of speech. 

First and foremost come all the points where linguistics borders 
on ethnology, all the relations that link the history of a language 
and the history of a race or civilization. The close interaction of 
language and ethnography brings to mind the bonds that join lin- 
guistic phenomena proper (see pp. 7 f.). The culture of a nation 
exerts an influence on its language, and the language, on the other 
hand, is largely responsible for the nation. 

Second come the relations between language and political his- 
tory. Great historical events like the Roman conquest have an 
incalculable influence on a host of hnguistic facts. Colonization, 
which is only one form that conquest may take, brings about 
changes in an idiom by transporting it into different surroundings. 
All kinds of facts could be cited as substantiating evidence. For 
instance, Norway adopted Danish when she united politically with 
Denmark; the Norwegians are trying today to throw off that 
linguistic influence. The internal politics of states is no less im- 
portant to the life of languages; certain governments (Uke the 
Swiss) allow the coexistence of several idioms; others (like the 
French) strive for linguistic unity. An advanced state of civihzation 


favors the development of special languages (juridical language, 
scientific terminology, etc.). 

Here we come to a third point: the relations between language 
and all sorts of institutions (the Church, the school, etc.). All these 
institutions in turn are closely tied to the literary development of 
a language, a general phenomenon that is all the more inseparable 
from political history. At every point the literary language over- 
steps the boundaries that literature apparently marks off; we need 
only consider the influence of salons, the court, and national 
academies. Moreover, the literary language raises the important 
question of conflicts between it and local dialects (see pp. 195 ff.); 
the linguist must also examine the reciprocal relations of book 
language and the vernacular; for every literary language, being the 
product of the culture, finally breaks away from its natural sphere, 
the spoken language. 

Finally, everything that relates to the geographical spreading of 
languages and dialectal splitting belongs to external linguistics. 
Doubtless the distinction between internal and external linguistics 
seems most paradoxical here, since the geographical phenomenon 
is so closely linked to the existence of any language ; but geographi- 
cal spreading and dialectal splitting do not actually affect the inner 
organism of an idiom. 

Some have maintained that the foregoing issues simply cannot 
be separated from the study of language proper. The viewpoint 
has been prevalent especially since the placing of so much emphasis 
on "Realia."^ Just as the inner organism of a plant is modified by 
alien forces (terrain, cUmate, etc.) does not the grammatical 
organism depend constantly on the external forces of linguistic 
change? It seems that we can scarcely give a satisfactory expla- 
nation of the technical terms and loan-words that abound in lan- 
guage without considering their development. Is it possible to 
distinguish the natural, organic growth of an idiom from its arti- 
ficial forms, such as the literary language, which are due to ex- 
ternal, and therefore inorganic forces? Common languages are 
always developing alongside local dialects, 

^ Realien is used in German to refer to all material facts of life, the shape, 
dimensions, and the like of objects, things, etc. Cf. the numerous works in 
German entitled Reallexicon. [Tr.] 


I believe that the study of external linguistic phenomena is most 
fruitful; but to say that we cannot understand the internal lin- 
guistic organism without studying external phenomena is wrong. 
Take as an example the borrowing of foreign words. We observe 
from the outset that borrowing is not a constant force in the life of 
a language. In certain isolated valleys there are dialects that have 
never taken a single artificial term from the outside. Should we say 
that such idioms are outside the conditions of normal speech and 
that they require "teratological"* study inasmuch as they have 
never suffered admixture? More important still, a loan-word no 
longer counts as such whenever it is studied within a system; it 
exists only through its relation with, and opposition to, words 
associated with it, just like any other genuine sign. Knowledge of 
the circumstances that contributed to the development of a lan- 
guage, generally speaking, is never indispensable. For certain 
languages — e.g. Zend and Old Slavic — even the identity of the 
original speakers is unknown, but lack of such information in no 
way hinders us in studying these languages internally and learning 
about the transformations that they have undergone. In any case, 
separation of the two viewpoints is mandatory, and the more 
rigidly they are kept apart, the better it will be. 

The best proof of the need for separating the two viewpoints is 
that each creates a distinct method. External linguistics can add 
detail to detail without being caught in the vise of a system. Each 
writer, for instance, will group as he sees fit facts about the spread- 
ing of a language beyond its territory. If he looks for the forces 
that created a literary language beside local dialects, he can always 
use simple enumeration. If he arranges the facts more or less 
systematically, he will do this solely for the sake of clarity. 

In internal linguistics the picture differs completely. Just any 
arrangement will not do. Language is a system that has its own 
arrangement. Comparison with chess will bring out the point. In 
chess, what is external can be separated relatively easily from what 
is internal. The fact that the game passed from Persia to Europe 
is external ; against that, everything having to do with its system 
and rules is internal. If I use ivory chessmen instead of wooden 
ones, the change has no effect on the system, but if I decrease or 

• 'Pertaining to the study of monsters,' see p. 54, footnote. [Tr.] 


increase the number of chessmen, this change has a profound effect 
on the "grammar" of the game. One must always distinguish be- 
tween what is internal and what is external. In each instance one 
can determine the nature of the phenomenon by applying this 
rule: everything that changes the system in any way is internal. 

Chapter VI 

1. Need for Studying the Subject 

The concrete object of linguistic science is the social product 
deposited in the brain of each individual, i.e. language. But the 
product differs with linguistic groups: we have to work with lan- 
guages. The linguist is obliged to acquaint himself with the greatest 
possible number of languages in order to determine what is uni- 
versal in them by observing and comparing them. 

But we generally learn about languages only through writing. 
Even in studying our native language, we constantly make use of 
written texts. The necessity of using written evidence increases 
when dealing with remote idioms, and all the more when studying 
idioms that no longer exist. We would have direct texts at our dis- 
posal in every instance only if people had always done what is now 
being done in Paris and Vienna. There, samples of all languages 
are being recorded. Even so, recorded specimens could be made 
available to others only through writing. 

Writing, though unrelated to its inner system, is used continually 
to represent language. We cannot simply disregard it. We must be 
acquainted with its usefulness, shortcomings, and dangers. 

2. Influence of Writing; Reasons for Its Ascendance 
over the Spoken Form 

Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the 
second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first. The 
linguistic object is not both the written and the spoken forms of 


words; the spoken forms alone constitute the object. But the 
spoken word is so intimately bound to its written image that the 
latter manages to usurp the main role. People attach even more 
importance to the written image of a vocal sign than to the sign 
itself. A similar mistake would be in thinking that more can be 
learned about someone by looking at his photograph than by 
viewing him directly. 

This illusion, which has always existed, is reflected in many of 
the notions that are currently bandied about on the subject of 
language. Take the notion that an idiom changes more rapidly 
when writing does not exist. Nothing could be further from the 
truth. Writing may retard the process of change under certain 
conditions, but its absence in no way jeopardizes the preservation 
of language. The oldest written texts of Lithuanian, which is still 
spoken in eastern Prussia and in a part of Russia, date from 1540; 
but the language of even that late period offers a more faithful 
picture of Proto-Indo-European than does Latin of 300 B.C. This 
one example is enough to show the extent to which languages are 
independent of writing. 

Certain very slight linguistic facts have been preserved without 
the help of any notation. During the whole Old High German 
period, people wrote tdten,fuolen, stozen; near the end of the twelfth 
century the forms toten, f Helen appeared, but stozen subsisted. How 
did the difference originate? Wherever the umlaut occurred, there 
was a ?/ in the following syllable. Proto-Germanic had *daupyan, 
*folyan, but *stautan. At the very beginning of the literary period 
(about 800) the y became so weak that no trace of it appears in 
writing for three centuries ; still, a slight trace had remained in the 
spoken form ; that is how it miraculously reappeared as an umlaut 
around 1180! Without the help of writing, a slight difference in 
pronunciation was accurately transmitted. 

Thus language does have a definite and stable oral tradition that 
is independent of writing, but the influence of the written form 
prevents our seeing this. The first linguists confused language and 
writing, just as the humanists had done before them. Even Bopp 
failed to distinguish clearly between letters and sounds. His works 
give the impression that a language and its alphabet are insepa- 


rable. His immediate successors fell into the same trap; the tran- 
scription th (for the fricative J^) caused Grimm to think not only 
that th was a double sound but also that it was an aspirated occlu- 
sive, and he accordingly assigned it a specific place in his law of 
consonantal mutation or Lautverschiebung (see p. 144). Scholars 
still confuse language and writing. Gaston Deschamps said that 
Berthelot "had saved French from ruin" because he had opposed 
spelling reform! 

But how is the influence of writing to be explained? 

1) First, the graphic form of words strikes us as being something 
permanent and stable, better suited than sound to account for the 
unity of language throughout time. Though it creates a purely 
fictitious unity, the superficial bond of writing is much easier to 
grasp than the only true bond, the bond of sound. 

2) Most people pay more attention to visual impressions simply 
because these are sharper and more lasting than aural impressions; 
that is why they show a preference for the former. The graphic 
form manages to force itself upon them at the expense of sound. 

3) The literary language adds to the undeserved importance of 
writing. It has its dictionaries and grammars; in school, children 
are taught from and by means of books; language is apparently 
governed by a code ; the code itself consists of a written set of strict 
rules of usage, orthography ; and that is why writing acquires pri- 
mary importance. The result is that people forget that they learn 
to speak before they learn to write, and the natural sequence is 

4) Finally, when there is a disagreement between language and 
orthography, settlement of the dispute is difiicult for everyone 
except the linguist; and since he is given no voice in the matter, 
the written form almost inevitably wins out, for any solution 
supported by it is easier; thus writing assumes undeserved im- 

3. Systems of Writing 

There are only two systems of writing: 

1) In an ideographic system each word is represented by a single 
sign that is unrelated to the sounds of the word itself. Each written 



sign stands for a whole word and, consequently, for the idea ex- 
pressed by the word. The classic example of an ideographic system 
of writing is Chinese. 

2) The system commonly known as "phonetic" tries to repro- 
duce the succession of sounds that make up a word. Phonetic 
systems are sometimes syllabic, sometimes alphabetic, i.e., based 
on the irreducible elements used in speaking. 

Moreover, ideographic systems freely become mixtures when 
certain ideograms lose their original value and become symbols of 
isolated sounds. 

The statement that the written word tends to replace the spoken 
one in our minds is true of both systems of writing, but the tend- 
ency is stronger in the ideographic system. To a Chinese, an 
ideogram and a spoken word are both symbols of an idea ; to him 
writing is a second language, and if two words that have the same 
sound are used in conversation, he may resort to writing in order 
to express his thought. But in Chinese the mental substitution of 
the written word for the spoken word does not have the annoying 
consequences that it has in a phonetic system, for the substitution 
is absolute; the same graphic symbol can stand for words from 
different Chinese dialects. 

I shall hmit discussion to the phonetic system, and especially to 
the one used today, the system that stems from the Greek 

' The correspondence between Saussure'e system of transcription and that 
recommended by the International Phonetic Association is roughly as follows : 
































French pur 


















French tin 


















French bon 






French seul 






French creuse 






French un 


When first devised a phonetic alphabet — unless borrowed and 
already marked by inconsistencies — gives a fairly rational repre- 
sentation of language. With respect to logic, Greek is especially 
noteworthy (see p. 64). But the harmonious relation between 
writing and pronunciation does not last. Why? This question 
must be examined. 

4. Reasons for the Discrepancy between Writing and Pronunciation 
Of the numerous causes of lack of agreement between writing 
and pronunciation, I shall recall only the more important ones. 
First, language is constantly evolving, whereas writing tends to 
remain stable. The result is that a point is reached where writing 
no longer corresponds to what it is supposed to record. A tran- 
scription that is accurate at a particular moment will be absurd a 
century later. For a time people may change their graphic symbols 
to conform with changes in pronunciation, then relinquish the 
effort. This happened in French in the case of oi: 

Pronunciation Written Forms 

Eleventh Century 1 rei, lei rei, lei 

Thirteenth Century .... 2 roi, loi roi, loi 

Fourteenth Century .... 3 roe, loe roi, loi 

Nineteenth Century .... 4 rwa, Iwa roi, loi 

Up until period 2 changes in pronunciation were recorded; 
each step in the history of the language was matched by a cor- 
responding step in the history of writing. But after the fourteenth 
century the written form of the words remained unchanged while 
the evolution of the language continued; from that moment the^ 
discrepancy between the language and its orthography increased 
progressively. Finally, the practice of joining discordant terms had 
its repercussion on the graphic system itself: the combination oi 
acquired a value that was unrelated to either o or i. 












French blanc 









German ich 






German doch 




See especially pages 46-49. [Tr.] 


Such examples could be multiplied indefinitely. For instance, 
why should the French write mats 'but' and fait 'fact' when the 
words are pronounced me and fef Why does c often have the value 
of sf The answer is that French has retained outmoded spellings, 

SpeUing always lags behind pronunciation. The I in French is 
today changing to ]j; speakers say eveyer, mouyer, just as they say 
essuyer 'wipe,' nettoyer 'clean'; but the written forms of these words 
are still eveiller 'awaken,' mouiller 'soak.' 

Another reason for discrepancy between spelling and pronunci- 
ation is this: if an alphabet is borrowed from another language, its 
resources may not be appropriate for their new function; expedi- 
ents will have to be found (e.g. the use of two letters to designate 
a single sound). Take the voiceless dental fricative \> of the Ger- 
manic languages. Since Latin had no sign for this sound, th was 
used. The Merovingian king Chilperic tried to add a special symbol 
for this sound to the Latin alphabet, but his attempt was unsuc- 
cessful and ih won acceptance. During the Middle Ages English 
had a closed e (e.g. sed) and an open e (e.g. led) ; since the alphabet 
failed to provide distinct symbols for the two sounds, the spellings 
seed and lead were devised. French uses the double symbol ch to 
stand for hushing I, etc. 

The influence of etymology also helps to widen the gap between 
spelling and pronunciation. It has been especially strong during 
certain periods (e.g. the Renaissance). Even a false etymology 
often forces itself into the spelling of a word: d was inserted in 
French jpoids 'weight' as if the word were derived from Latin 
pondus; poids actually comes from pensum.^ Whether the appli- 
cation of the principle is correct matters little; the fallacy is in 
spelling words according to their etymology. 

Other reasons for the discrepancy are not so obvious; some 
absurdities cannot be excused even on etymological grounds. Why 
was thun used instead of tun in German? The h was said to repre- 
sent the aspiration that followed the initial consonant ; but it would 
have to be inserted wherever aspiration occurs, and many similar 
words were never written with h (Tugend, Tisch, etc.). 

8 Cf. English island, derived from ig 'island' and land 'land' but influenced 
by isle, and doubt, derived from Old French douter but later changed to con- 
form with Latin dubitare. [Tr.] 


5. Results of the Discrepancy 

To classify the inconsistencies of writing would take too long. 
One salient disadvantage is the multiplicity of symbols that stand 
for the same sound. For z French uses j, g, ge (joU 'pretty/ geler 
'freeze,' geai 'jay'); for z, both z and s; for s, c, g and t (nation 
'nation'), sc (acquiescer 'acquiesce'), sg (acquiesgant 'acquiescent'), 
X {dix 'ten') ; and for k it uses c, qu, k, ch, cc, cqu (acquerir 'acquire'). 
Conversely, a single symbol stands for several values : t stands for 
t or s, g for g or z, etc.^ 

"Indirect spellings" also merit our attention. There is no double 
consonant in Zettel, Teller, etc. ; German uses tt, II, etc. for the sole 
purpose of indicating that the preceding vowel is open and short. 
Through a similar aberration English adds a final silent e to 
lengthen the preceding vowel: mad, made. The e, which actually 
affects only the preceding syllable, creates a second syllable for 
the eye. 

These irrational spellings still stand for something in language ; 
but others have neither rime nor reason. French has no double 
consonants except the old futures mourrai '(I) shall die,' courrai 
*(I) shall run,' etc.; yet illegitimate double consonants abound in 
the orthography of the language (bourru 'surly,' sottise 'foolish- 
ness,' souffrir 'suffer,' etc.). 

Being unstable and striving always for regularity, writing may 
vacillate at times ; the result is fluctuating orthographies that stem 
from efforts to record sounds at different periods. Take ertha, erdha, 
erda, or thrl, dhri, dri in Old High German: th, dh, d stand for the 
same phonic element. But which element? Writing does not provide 
the answer. The complication that arises is this: confronted with 
two spellings for the same word, we cannot always decide whether 
two pronunciations are actually represented. Suppose that texts of 
neighboring dialects show the spelling asca for a word in one of the 
dialects and ascha for the same word in the other; if the sound is 
the same, the transcriptions point to an orthographic fluctuation ; 
if not, the difference is phonological and dialectal, as in the Greek 
forms paizo, paizdo, palddo. Or two successive periods may be 

' The discrepancy between spelling and pronunciation is of course more 
Btriking in English than in French: two perfectly riming sounds are WTitten 
fight and bite; c stands for the same sound as both s and k; etc. [Tr.] 


involved. The English forms hwat, hweel, etc. were later replaced 
by what, wheel, etc. Does this point to a graphic change or to a 
phonetic change? 

The preceding discussion boils down to this: writing obscures 
language ; it is not a guise for language but a disguise. That fact is 
clearly illustrated by the spelling of French oiseau 'bird.' Not one 
spoken sound (wazo) is indicated by its own symbol. Here writing 
fails to record any part of the picture of language. 

Another result is that the less writing represents what it is 
supposed to represent, the stronger the tendency to use it as a 
basis becomes. Grammarians never fail to draw attention to the 
written form. Psychologically, the tendency is easily explained, 
but its consequences are annoying. Free use of the words "pro- 
nounce" and "pronunciation" sanctions the abuse and reverses 
the real, legitimate relationship between writing and language. 
Whoever says that a certain letter must be pronounced a certain 
way is mistaking the written image of a sound for the sound itself. 
For French oi to be pronounced wa, this spelling would have to 
exist independently; actually wa is written oi. To attribute the 
oddity to an exceptional pronunciation of o and i is also misleading, 
for this impUes that language depends on its written form and that 
certain hberties may be taken in writing, as if the graphic symbols 
were the norm. 

False notions about the relationship between sound and graphic 
symbols appear even in grammatical rules, as in the case of French 
h. Some words that begin with an unaspirated vowel are written 
with h through remembrance of their Latin forms: homme 'man' 
(formerly ome) because of Latin homo. But in words of Germanic 
origin, initial h was actually pronounced: hache 'hatchet,' hareng 
'herring,' honte 'shame,' etc. As long as aspiration was used, words 
of Germanic origin obeyed the laws governing initial consonants: 
speakers said deu haches 'two hatchets,' le hereng 'the herring'; 
other words obeyed the laws governing initial vowels ; speakers 
said deu-z-ommes 'two men,' Vomme 'the man.' For that period the 
rule, "Liaison and elision do not occur before aspirated /i," was 
correct. But nowadays the formula is meaningless. Aspirated h no 
longer exists unless the label is applied to something which is not 


a sound but which prevents liaison and elision. Again we are 
involved in a vicious circle, and h is but a fictitious offspring of 

The pronunciation of a word is determined, not by its spelling, 
but by its history. The form of a word at a particular moment 
stands for a moment in its enforced evolution. Precise laws govern 
its evolution. Each step is determined by the preceding step. The 
only thing to consider is the one most often forgotten : the evolution 
of the word, its etymology. 

The name of the town of Auch is o§ in phonetic transcription. 
That is the only French word in which final ch stands for I. But we 
explain nothing by saying, "Final ch is pronounced 5 only in Auch." 
The only question that concerns us is this : How could Latin Auscii 
have changed to o§? Orthography is unimportant. 

Should French gageure 'wager' be pronounced with o or ii? Some 
speakers say : gazor, for heure 'hour' is pronounced dr. Others say : 
No, it is gazilr, for ge is equivalent z, as in gedle 'jail.' The argument 
is pointless. The real issue is etymological : gageure was formed from 
gager 'earn' just as tournure 'figure' was formed from tourner 'turn'; 
only gaziir is justifiable; gazor is due solely to the equivocal nature 
of writing. 

But the tyranny of writing goes even further. By imposing itself 
upon the masses, spelling influences and modifies language. This 
happens only in highly literate languages where written texts play 
an important role. Then visual images lead to wrong pronunci- 
ations; such mistakes are really pathological.^" Spelling practices 
cause mistakes in the pronunciation of many French words. For 
instance, there were two spellings for the surname Lef^vre (from 
Latin /a6er), one popular and simple, the other learned and ety- 
mological: Lefevre and Lefebvre. Because v and u were not kept 
apart in the old system of writing, Lefebvre was read as Lefebure, 
with a b that had never really existed and a u that was the result 
of ambiguity. Now, the latter form is actually pronounced. 

Mispronunciations due to spelling will probably appear more 
frequently as time goes on, and the number of letters pronounced 

'" Pathology was given currency in French by Littr6. It was used subse- 
quently by Gilli6ron and Darmsteter as well as by Saussure. See note 6. [Tr.] 


by speakers will probably increase. Some Parisians already pro- 
nounce the t in sept femmes 'seven women' ;^^ Darmsteter foresees 
the day when even the last two letters of vingt 'twenty' will be 
pronounced — truly an orthographic monstrosity. 

Such phonic deformations belong to language but do not stem 
from its natural functioning. They are due to an external influence. 
Linguistics should put them into a special compartment for obser- 
vation: they are teratological cases.^ 

Chapter VII 

1. Definition 

Whoever consciously deprives himseK of the perceptible image 
of the written word runs the risk of perceiving only a shapeless and 
unmanageable mass. Taking away the written form is like depriv- 
ing a beginning swimmer of his life belt. 

To substitute immediately what is natural for what is artificial 
would be desirable; but this is impossible without first studying 
the sounds of language ; apart from their graphic symbols, sounds 
are only vague notions, and the prop provided by writing, though 
deceptive, is still preferable. The first linguists, w^ho knew nothing 
about the physiology of articulated sounds, were constantly falling 
into a trap ; to me, it means a first step in the direction of truth, for 
the study of sounds themselves furnishes the desired prop. Modern 

" The pronunciation [se] is now obsolescent. Cf. the trend toward pro- 
nouncing the t in often. [Tr.] 

'2 Saussure's terminology is reminiscent of the biological parlance of Gillieron 
(e.g. in Pathologie et therapeidique verbales, Paris, 1921). [Tr.] 

'^ Saussure later modifies and expands his definition of phonology (see 
especially pp. 34, 42 ff., 117 ff. and 131). Only M. Grammont has followed 
Saussure's practice. English and American linguists often use phonology to 
indicate the historical study of sounds or the study of the functioning of 
Bounds in a particular language, phonetics for the study of the modaUtiea 
of sounds used in speaking, and phonemics (corresponding to French phonologie 
and German Phonologie) for the study of the distinctive sounds of language. 


linguists have finally seen the light; pursuing for their own ends 
investigations started by others (physiologists, theoreticians of 
singing, etc.), they have given linguists an auxiliary science that 
has freed it from the written word. 

The physiology of sounds (German Laut- or Sprachphysiologie) 
is often called phonetics (French phonetique, German Phonetik) . To 
me this name seems inappropriate. Instead, I shall use -phonology. 
For phonetics first designated — and should continue to designate — 
the study of the evolutions of sounds. Two absolutely distinct dis- 
ciplines should not be lumped together under the same name. 
Phonetics is a historical science; it analyses events and changes, 
and moves through time. Phonology is outside time, for the ar- 
ticulatory mechanism never changes. 

The two studies are distinct but not opposites. Phonetics is a 
basic part of the science of language; phonology — this bears 
repeating — is only an auxiliary discipline and belongs exclusively to 
speaking (see pp. 17 ff.). Just what phonational movements could 
accomplish if language did not exist is not clear; but they do not 
constitute language, and even after we have explained all the move- 
ments of the vocal apparatus necessary for the production of each 
auditory impression, we have in no way illuminated the problem 
of language. It is a system based on the mental opposition of audi- 
tory impressions, just as a tapestry is a work of art produced by 
the visual oppositions of threads of different colors; the important 
thing in analysis is the role of the oppositions, not the process 
through which the colors were obtained. 

An outUne of the phonological system is given in the Appendix; 
here I am trying merely to determine the extent to which pho- 
nology can help linguistics to escape the delusions of writing. 

2. Phonological Writing 

The linguist needs above all else a means of transcribing articu- 
lated sounds that will rule out all ambiguity. Actually, countless 
graphic systems have been proposed. 

What are the requirements for a truly phonological system of 
writing? First, there should be one symbol for each element of the 
spoken chain. This requirement is not always considered. Thus 
English phonologists, concerned with classification rather than 


analysis, have two- and three-letter S5anbols for certam sounds. 
Second, there should be some means for making a rigid distinction 
between implosive and explosive sounds (see pp. 49 ff.). 

Are there grounds for substituting a phonological alphabet for 
a system already in use? Here I can only broach this interesting 
subject. I think that phonological writing should be for the use of 
linguists only. First, how would it be possible to make the English, 
Germans, French, etc. adopt a uniform system! Next, an alphabet 
applicable to all languages would probably be weighed down by 
diacritical marks; and — to say nothing of the distressing appear- 
ance of a page of phonological writing — attempts to gain precision 
would obviously confuse the reader by obscuring what the writing 
was designed to express. The advantages would not be sufficient 
to compensate for the inconveniences. Phonological exactitude is 
not very desirable outside science. 

Reading is another issue. We read in two ways: a new or un- 
known word is spelled out letter by letter; but a common, ordinary 
word is embraced by a single glance, independently of its letters, 
so that the image of the whole word acquires an ideographic value. 
Here traditional orthography takes revenge. It is useful to dis- 
tinguish between French tant 'so much' and temps 'weather'; 
et 'and,' est 'is,' and ait 'have'; du 'of the' and diX 'had to'; il devait 
*he owed' and Us devaienl 'they owed,' etc.^* Let us hope only that 
the most flagrant absurdities of writing will be eliminated. Al- 
though a phonological alphabet is helpful in the teaching of lan- 
guages, its use should not be generalized. 

3. Validity of Evidence Furnished by Writing 

One must not think that spelling reform should immediately 
follow the realization that writing is deceptive. The genuine con- 
tribution of phonology is in providing precautionary measures for 
dealing with the written form through which we must pass in order 
to reach language. Evidence furnished by writing is valid only 
when interpreted. We must draw up for each language studied a 
phonological system, i.e. a description of the sounds with which it 
functions; for each language operates on a fixed number of well- 
differentiated phonemes. This system is the only set of facts that 
; " Cf. English sow and sew; to, too, and two; due and dew, etc. [Tr.] 


interests the linguist. Graphic symbols bear but a faint resem- 
blance to it; the difficulty of determining the accuracy of the 
resemblance varies according to the idiom and circumstances. 

The linguist who deals with a language of the past has only in- 
direct data at his disposal. What resources can he use in setting 
up its phonological system? 

1) First and foremost is external evidence, especially contem- 
porary descriptions of the sounds and pronunciations of the period. 
French grammarians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 
especially those interested in teaching foreigners, left us many 
interesting observations. But the information contained in the 
writings of contemporaries is often vague, for the authors have no 
phonological method. The terminology of their descriptions is 
whimsical and lacks scientific precision. The result is that their 
evidence must in turn be interpreted. Names given to sounds, for 
instance, are often misleading: Greek grammarians called voiced 
b, d, g, etc. "middle" consonants (mesai), and voiceless p, t, k, etc. 
psllai, which Latin grammarians translated by tenues. 

2) More accurate information will result from combining ex- 
ternal data with internal evidence, which I shall class under two 

a) The first class comprises evidence based on the regidarity of 
phonetic evolutions. Knowing what sound a letter stood for during 
another period is important in determining the value of that letter. 
Its present value is the result of an evolution that allows us to cast 
aside certain hypotheses from the outset. For instance, the exact 
value of Sanskrit q is unknown, but the fact that it replaced palatal 
Proto-Indo-European k clearly limits the field of conjecture. 

If the hnguist knows both the point of departure and the parallel 
evolution of similar sounds of a particular language during the 
same period, he can use analogical reasoning and set up a pro- 

Naturally, the problem of determining an intermediate pro- 
nunciation is easier when both the starting point and the end 
result are unknown. French an (e.g. in sauter 'jump') must have 
been a diphthong during the Middle Ages, for it is half-way be- 
tween older al and modern o. And if we learn by some other 
means that the diphthong still existed at a particular moment, we 


are safe in assuming that it also existed during the preceding period. 
We do not know exactly what z stands for in a word like Old High 
German wazer; but our guideposts are the older form water on the 
one hand and Modern German Wasser on the other. The z must be 
a sound half-way between t and s; we can reject any hypothesis 
that fails to consider both t and s; to hold that z stands for a palatal 
sound, for example, would be impossible, for only a dental articu- 
lation can logically come between two other dental articulations. 

b) There are several types of contemporary evidence. Spelling 
differences furnish one of many types. During one period we find 
that Old High German has wazer, zehan, ezan but never wacer, 
cehan, etc. When we find the forms esan and essan, waser and 
wasser, etc., however, we easily conclude that the sound of z was 
close to s but different from the sound that c stood for during the 
same period. The subsequent appearance of such forms as wacer 
proves that the two originally distinct phonemes became somewhat 

Poetic texts are invaluable documents in the study of pro- 
nunciation. They furnish many types of information, depending on 
whether the system of versification is based on the number of syl- 
lables, quantity, or similarity of sounds (alliteration, assonance, 
and rime). Greek indicated certain long vowels in writing (e.g. 
o, transcribed co) but not others. We must consult the poets in 
order to find out about the quantity of a, i, and u. Thus rime allows 
us to determine until what period the final consonants of Old 
French gras and faz (Latin facio '1 do') were different and from 
what moment they were brought together and merged. Rime and 
assonance also show that e derived from Latin a (e.g. yere 'father* 
from patrem, tel 'such' from talem, mer 'sea' from mare) was not 
pronounced like other e's. These words never appear in rime or 
assonance with elle 'she' (from ilia), vert 'green' (from viridem), 
belle 'beautiful' (from bella), etc. 

Finally there is the evidence furnished by the spelling of loan- 
words, puns, cock-and-bull stories, etc. In Gothic, for example, 
kawtsjo reveals information about the pronunciation of cautio in 
Vulgar Latin. That French roi 'king' was pronounced rwe at the 
end of the eighteenth century is attested by the following story 
cited by Nyrop (Grammaire historique de la langue frangaise. 


p. 178) : A woman who had been brought before the revolutionary 
tribunal was asked whether she had not said in the presence of 
witnesses that a king {roi) was needed; she replied "that she was 
not speaking of a king like Capet or the others at all, but of a 
rouet mattre 'spinning wheel.' " 

All the foregoing procedures help us to acquire some knowledge 
of the phonological system of a period as well as to interpret and 
use profitably the evidence furnished by writing. 

In dealing with a living language, the only rational method 
consists of (a) setting up the system of sounds as revealed by direct 
observation, and (b) observing the system of signs used to repre- 
sent — imperfectly — these sounds. Many grammarians still hold 
to the old method that I have criticized and simply tell how each 
letter is pronounced in the language they wish to describe. By using 
the older method, however, they cannot present clearly the pho- 
nological system of an idiom. 

Nevertheless, great strides in the right direction have already 
been taken, and phonologists have made an important contribution 
toward reforming our ideas about writing and spelling. 

Principles of Phonology 

Chapter I 

L Definition of the Phoneme 

[For this part we were able to use a stenographic reproduction of 
three lectures given by Saussure in 1897, "Theorie de la syllabe," 
in which he also touches upon the general principles discussed in 
Chapter I; moreover, much of the material in his personal notes 
deals with phonology; on many points, the notes illuminate and 
complete the data furnished by Courses I and III. (Editors' note.)] 

Many phonologists limit themselves almost exclusively to the 
phonational act, i.e. the production of sound by the vocal organs 
(larynx, mouth, etc.) and neglect the auditory side. Their method 
is wrong. Not only does the auditory impression come to us just 
as directly as the image of the moving vocal organs, but it is also 
the basis of any theory. Auditory impressions exist unconsciously 
before phonological units are studied; our ear tells us what b, t, etc. 
are. Even if all the movements made by the mouth and larynx in 
pronouncing a chain of sounds could be photographed, the ob- 
server would still be unable to single out the subdivisions in the 
series of articulatory movements; he would not know where one 
sound began and the next one ended. Without the auditory im- 
pression, how can we say that in fal, for instance, there are three 
units rather than two or four? But when we hear a sound in a 
spoken chain, we can identify it immediately; as long as there is 
an impression of homogeneity, the sound is unique. What matters 
is not the length of the sound (cf . fdl and fdl) but the quahty of the 
impression. The sound-chain is not divided into equal beats but 
into homogeneous ones; each beat is characterized by unity of 
impression, and that is the natural point of departure for 



Here the early Greek alphabet is noteworthy. Each simple 
sound is represented in Greek by a single graphic sign, and each 
sign always stands for the same simple sound. The Greek alphabet 
was an ingenious discovery that was later handed down to the 
Romans. In the transcription of bdrharos 'barbarian/ each letter 
corresponds to a homogeneous beat: 


In the drawing above, the horizontal line stands for the phonetic 
chain, and the short vertical bars indicate passage from one sound 
to another. In the early Greek alphabet there are no complex 
graphs like English sh for s, no interchangeable letters for single 
sounds like c and s for s, no single signs for double sounds like x for 
ks. A one-to-one ratio between sounds and graphs — the necessary 
and sufficient basis for a good phonological system of writing — was 
realized almost completely by the Greeks.^ 

Other nations did not grasp this principle, and their alphabets 
do not analyze the spoken chain according to its homogeneous 
auditory beats. The Cypriots, for example, stopped at more com- 
plex units like pa, ti, do, etc. Such notation is called syllabic, but 
this name is hardly accurate since there are still other types of 
syllables (e.g. pak, tra, etc.). The Semites indicated only the con- 
sonants. They would have transcribed a word like bdrbaros as 

Delimitation of the sounds of the spoken chain can be based only 
on auditory impressions; but description of these sounds is an 
entirely different process. Description can be carried out only on 

1 To be sure, they wrote X, 0, for kh, th, ph; <^EPO stands for ph^ro; 
but this is a later innovation; archaic inscriptions read KHAPIS and not 
XAPIS. The same inscriptions have two signs for k, kappa and koppa, but 
the situation is different: two real differences in pronunciation were involved, 
A; being sometimes palatal and sometimes velar; besides, koppa later dis- 
appeared. Finally — and this is a more subtle point — in early Greek and Latin 
inscriptions a double consonant is often indicated by a simple letter (e.g. 
Latin fuisse, written FUISE) ; this is an infraction of the principle since the 
doul)le s lasts two beats — beats that are not homogeneous, as we shall see 
later, and that make distinct impressions; but the mistake is excusable since 
the two sounds have a common characteristic even though they are distinct 
(cf. pp. 51 ff.). [S.] 


the basis of the articulatory act, for it is impossible to analyze the 
units of sound in their own chain. We must go back to the move- 
ments involved in phonation ; there, a given sound obviously cor- 
responds to a given act: b (auditory beat) = b' (articulatory beat). 
The first units obtained by cutting the spoken chain are made up 
of b and b' ; they are phonemes; a phoneme is the sum of the audi- 
tory impressions and articulatory movements, the unit heard and 
the unit spoken, each conditioning the other: thus it is a complex 
unit with a foot in each chain. 

The elements first obtained through analysis of the spoken chain 
are like the links of this chain : they are irreducible moments that 
cannot be studied outside the time that they occupy. A grouping 
Uke ta, for instance, will always be one moment plus another, one 
fragment of a certain length plus another. Against this, the ir- 
reducible t, taken separately, can be studied in the abstract, outside 
time. We can speak of t in general as the T species (I use capitals 
to indicate species), of i in general as the / species, etc. if we con- 
sider only the distinctive character of a sound and neglect every- 
thing that depends on succession in time. Similarly, a musical 
series do, re, mi can be treated only as a concrete series in time, 
but if I select one of its irreducible elements, I can study it in the 

Having analyzed a sufficient number of spoken chains from 
different languages, the phonologist can identify and classify the 
elements with which each language operates. Then, if he ignores 
acoustically unimportant variations, he will find that the number 
of species is not indefinite. Special works hst these species and 
describe them in detail.^ Here I wish merely to show the simple, 
invariable principles upon which any such classification is based. 

But first let me say a few words about the vocal apparatus, the 
possible functioning of the different organs, and the role of these 
same organs as producers of sound. 

2 Cf . Sievers, Grundziige der Phonetik, fifth ed., 1902; Jespersen, Lehrbtich 
der Phonetik, second ed., 1913; Roudet, Elements de phonetique generale, 
1910. [Ed.] 



2. The Vocal Apparatus and Its Functioning^ 

1) I limit description of the vocal apparatus to a schematic 
drawing in which A designates the nasal cavity, B the oral cavity, 
and C the larynx (with the glottis e between the two vocal cords) . 

In the mouth, the parts of the vocal apparatus that should be 
singled out are these : the lips a and a; the tongue jS — y (/? designat- 
ing the point and 7 the rest) ; the upper teeth d; the palate, made 
up of the bony hard palate f-h in the front and the movable mem- 
brane or soft palate i in the back; and, finally, the uvula 5. 

The Greek letters indicate organs that are active during articu- 
lation ; the Latin letters identify the passive parts. 

The glottis z, made up of two parallel muscles or vocal cords, 
opens when the cords are drawn apart and closes when they come 
together. Complete closure does not occur; the opening is some- 
times wide, sometimes narrow. When the opening is wide, allowing 

' Saussure's brief description has been supplemented by material based on 
Jespersen's Lehrbuch der Phonetik, from which we have also borrowed the 
principle used in setting up the table of phonemes below (see pp. 44 ff.). But 
we are merely carrying out Saussure's intent, and the reader may be assured 
that these additions do not alter his thought in any way. [Ed.] 


the air to pass freely, no vibration is heard; voicing occurs when 
air passes through a narrow opening, causing the cords to vibrate. 
There is no other alternative in the normal emission of sounds. 

The nasal cavity is a completely immobile organ ; the stream of 
air can be stopped only by raising the uvula 6; it is an open or a 
closed door. 

The oral cavity offers a wide range of possibilities; the lips can 
be used to increase the length of the channel, the jaws can be 
puffed out or drawn in, and a great variety of movements of the 
lips and tongue can be used to contract or even to close the cavity. 

The role played by the same organs in producing sounds is 
directly proportional to their mobility ; uniformity in the function- 
ing of the larynx and nasal cavity is matched by diversity in the 
functioning of the oral cavity. 

Air that is expelled from the lungs first passes through the 
glottis. It is possible to produce a laryngeal sound by tightening 
the vocal cords, but the larynx cannot produce phonological 
varieties that allow us to separate and classify the sounds of lan- 
guage; in this respect, the laryngeal sound is uniform. Perceived 
directly as it emitted by the glottis the sound seems to have an 
almost invariable quality. 

The nasal channel serves as nothing more than a resonator for 
the vocal vibrations that pass through it. It does not function as 
a producer of sound. 

The oral cavity, on the contrary, functions both as a producer 
of sound and as a resonator. When the glottis is wide-open, there 
is no laryngeal vibration ; the sound that is heard originates in the 
oral cavity (I leave to the physicist the task of deciding whether 
it is a sound or merely a noise). But when tightening of the vocal 
cords causes the glottis to vibrate, the mouth serves mainly to 
modify the laryngeal sound. 

In short, the factors involved in the production of sound are 
expiration, oral articulation, vibration of the larynx, and nasal 

But simple enumeration does not identify the differential prop- 
erties of phonemes. In classifying phonemes, what constitutes them 
is of much less importance than what distinguishes them from each 
other. A negative force can be more important in classifying a 



phoneme than a positive one. Thus expiration, a positive element 
that is part of every phonational act, has no dififerentiating value; 
but nasal resonance may characterize phonemes by its absence, a 
negative force, just as well as by its presence. The important thing 
is that two of the elements enumerated above are constant, and 
that they are necessary and sufficient for the production of sound : 

a) expiration 

6) oral articulation; 

whereas the other two may be either absent or superimposed on 
the first two: 

c) vibration of the larynx 

d) nasal resonance. 

Moreover, we know that while a, c, and d are uniform, b makes 
possible the production of many varieties of sounds. 

We should also bear in mind that a phoneme is identified when its 
phonational act is determined, and that all species of phonemes will 
be determined when all phonational acts are identified. The fore- 
going classification of forces involved in the production of sound 
shows that phonational acts are differentiated only by b, c, and d. 
For each phoneme we must determine its oral articulation, whether 
a laryngeal sound is present (— -) or absent ([ ]), and whether nasal 
resonance is present (....) or absent ([ ]). When one of these three 
is unknown, the identification of a sound is incomplete. But as soon 
as all three are known, their different combinations determine all 
the basic species of phonational acts. 

The following table gives the possible variations: 





a Expiration 

6 Oral Articulation 

c [ ] 

d [ ] 


Oral Articulation 

[ ] 

Oral Articulation 

[ ] 


Oral Articulation 

Column I designates voiceless sounds, II voiced sounds. III 
voiceless nasalized sounds, and IV voiced nasalized sounds. 

But one unknown remains: the nature of the oral articulation; 


therefore, the most important thing is to determine the possible 
varieties of oral articulation. 

3. Classification of Sounds According to Their Oral Articulation 

Sounds are generally classed according to the place of their 
articulation. My point of departure will be different. Regardless 
of where articulation takes place, there is always a certain aperture, 
i.e., a certain degree of opening that ranges between two extremes, 
complete closure and maximum opening. On that basis, and pro- 
ceeding from minimum to maximum aperture, sounds will fall into 
seven categories that I shall designate by the numbers 0, 1,2, 3, 4, 
5, 6. Only within each category shall I distribute phonemes into 
different types according to their place of articulation. 

I shall conform to current terminology even though it is im- 
perfect or incorrect at many points: words like guttural, palatal, 
dental, liquid, etc. are all more or less illogical. A more rational 
plan would be to divide the palate into a certain number of areas. 
Then by focusing attention on lingual articulation, it would always 
be possible to specify the main point of contact. In devising a 
formula, I shall draw upon this notion and use the letters of the 
sketch of the vocal apparatus (see p. 41) : the number of the aper- 
ture is placed between a Greek letter (indicating an active organ) 
and a Latin letter (indicating a passive organ). Thus /30e means 
that complete closure is maintained while the tip of the tongue is 
placed against the upper alveolar ridge. 

Finally, within each articulation the different species of pho- 
nemes are marked by concomitant features — laryngeal sound and 
nasal resonance — which differentiate by their absence as well as 
by their presence. 

The two accompanying features and the formula provide a 
simple, rational means of classifying phonemes. Of course, one 
should not expect to find here phonemes that have a complex or 
special character, regardless of their practical importance (e.g. the 
aspirates ph, dh, etc. ; the affricates t§, dz, pf, etc. ; palatalized con- 
sonants; weak vowels like 9 or mute e, etc.). Nor should one expect 
to find simple phonemes that have no practical importance and 
that are not considered differentiated sounds. 


A. Zero Aperture: Occlusives 

Occlusives include all phonemes produced by complete closure, 
the airtight but brief sealing of the oral cavity. This is not the place 
to discuss whether a sound is produced when closure or release 
occurs; actually it may be produced in either way (see pp. 51 ff.). 

The three main types of occlusives are named according to their 
places of articulation: labials (p, h, m); dentals {t, d, n); and 
gutturals (A;, g, n). 

The first type is articulated with the lips; for the second, the tip 
of the tongue is placed against the front of the palate ; for the third, 
the back of the tongue makes contact with the back part of the 

Many languages, notably the Indo-European, make a distinc- 
tion between two guttural articulations, one palatal (in the f-h 
area) and the other velar (in the i area), but elsewhere (e.g. in 
English) the difference goes unnoticed and the ear likens a back 
k (such as the sound of c in cart) to a front k (as in king). 

The following table gives the formulas for the various occlusive 
phonemes : 




P b 






g (n) 

aOa aOa 

[ ] — 
[ ] [ ] 



[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 



[ ] 
[ ] 

70h TOh 

[ ] .... 

Nasal m, n, and n are really voiced nasalized occlusives; in pro- 
nouncing amba, one raises the uvula to close the nasal fossae in 
shifting from m to b. 

In theory, each type has a voiceless nasal — a nasal sound un- 
accompanied by glottal vibration; thus voiceless m occurs after a 
voiceless sound in the Scandinavian languages; French also has 
voiceless nasals, but speakers do not look upon them as differential 

Nasals are put inside parentheses in the table; although the 



mouth is completely closed during their articulation, the opening 
of the nasal channel gives them wider aperture (see Class C). 

B. Aperture 1: Fricatives or Spirants 

The phonemes of Class B are characterized by incomplete closure 
which allows the air to pass through the oral cavity. The name 
spirant is all too general; while the word fricative tells nothing 
about the degree of closure, it does suggest friction resulting from 
the expulsion of air (Latin fricdre) . 

The phonemes of Class B, unlike those of Class A, do not fall into 
three types. First, labials proper (corresponding to p and b) are 
rarely used ; I shall disregard them ; they are ordinarily replaced by 
labiodentals, which are produced by contact between the lower lip 
and upper teeth (/ and v). Dentals are divided into several va- 
rieties, depending on the shape which the tip of the tongue takes 
on making contact; without going into detail, I shall use jS, 0', and 
j8" to designate the different shapes of the tip of the tongue. Among 
the sounds that involve the palate, the ear generally singles out a 
front articulation (palatal) and a back articulation (velar) ^ 












[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 

J) = English th in thing 
t5 = " th in then 
8 = " s in say 
s in rose 
sh in show 
i = " g in rouge 
x' = German ch in ich 
y' = North German g in liegen 
X = German ch in Bach 
7 = North German g in Tage 

* Faithful to his method, Saussure did not think it necessary to make the 
same distinction, for Class A, in spite of the importance of the two series 
Ki and K2 in Proto-Indo-European. The omission is deliberate. [Ed.] 








[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 
[ ] 


[ ] 



Is there a sound among the fricatives to match n, m, n, etc. 
among the occlusives — i.e. a nasal v, z, etc.? It is easy to imagine 
that there is; for instance, a nasal v is heard in French inventer 
'invent'; but in most languages the nasal fricative is not a dis- 
tinctive sound. ^ 

C. Aperture 2: Nasals (see above, p. 46) 

D. Aperture 3: Liquids 

Two kinds of articulation are classed as liquids. 

(1) In lateral articulation (indicated by I in the formulas below) 
the tongue rests against the front palate but leaves an opening on 
both sides. It is possible to single out, according to the place of 
articulation, dental /, palatal V , and guttural of velar I. In most 
languages lateral phonemes are voiced in the same way as 6, z, etc. 
Still, a voiceless lateral is not impossible ; it exists even in French, 
where an I that follows a voiceless phoneme may be pronounced 
without the laryngeal sound (e.g. the I of pluie 'rain' against the 
I of bleu 'blue') ; but speakers are not conscious of the difference. 

There is no point in discussing nasal /, which is very rare and 
nondifferentiating, although it does occur, especially after a nasal 
sound (e.g. the I in French branlant 'shaking'). 

(2) In vibrant articulation (indicated by v in the formula below) 
the tongue is held farther from the palate than for I, but a variable 
number of contacts between the tongue and palate makes the 
aperture for vibrants equivalent to the aperture for laterals. 
Vibration is produced in two ways: with the tip of the tongue 
thrust forward against the alveolar ridge (trilled r), or with the 
back of the tongue in contact with the palate (a dorsal r or burr) . 
What was said about voiced or nasal laterals is also applicable to 






[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 

* The French reads, ''mais en g6n(5rale la fricative nasale n'est pas un son, 
dont la langue ait conscience." [Tr.] 


Beyond aperture 3, we enter into a new field ; from consonants we 
pass to vowels. Up to this point, I have not brought up the dis- 
tinction between the two for a very simple reason : the phonational 
mechanism is the same for both. The formula for a vowel is com- 
parable in every way to the formula for a voiced consonant. From 
the viewpoint of oral articulation, no distinction need be made. 
Only the acoustical effect is different. Beyond a certain degree of 
aperture, the mouth functions mainly as a resonator: the timbre 
of the laryngeal sound stands out, and oral noise decreases. How 
much of the larjmgeal sound is cut out depends on how tightly the 
mouth is closed; the wider the mouth is opened, the more noise 
lessens; thus sound predominates in vowels through a purely 
mechanical process. 

E. Aperture 4: h u, ii 

The vowels of Class E require much more closure than the other 
vowels — almost as much as consonants. Certain consequences that 
will appear later justify the name semi- vowels, which is generally 
given to phonemes of Class E. 

The phoneme i is pronounced with retracted lips ( — ) and front 
articulation, u with rounded hps (O) and back articulation, and 
ii with the lip position of u and the articulation of i. 

Like all other vowels, i, u, and ii have nasaUzed forms. Here 
we can disregard them since they are rare. It is worth noting, 
however, that the sounds written in and un in French are really not 
nasalized i and u (see below). 

Is there a voiceless i, i.e. articulated without a laryngeal sound? 
The same question arises for u and iX, and for all vowels. Such 
phonemes, corresponding to voiceless consonants, exist but are 
not to be confused with whispered vowels, i.e., vowels articulated 
with the glottis relaxed. Voiceless vowels are like the aspirated /I's 
that are pronounced before them : in hi, an i with no vibration is 
first heard, then a normal i. 

F. Aperture 5: e, o, 6 



The articulation of the phonemes of Class F corresponds exactly 
to the articulation of i, u, ii. Nasalized vowels occur frequently 
(e.g. French e, 6, o as in pin 'pine,' pont 'bridge/ brun 'brown'). 
Voiceless forms are the aspirated h of he, ho, ho. 

N. B. Many languages single out several degrees of aperture 
within Class F; French, for instance, has at least two series, one 
closed (e, o, o as in de 'thimble,' dos 'back,' deux 'two') and the 
other open (e, p, p as in mer 'sea,' mort 'death,' meurtre 'murder'). 







— 5f 

[ ] 


[ ] 


[ ] 

— 5f 



— 6i — 6i 

t J • • • • the h of ha 

G. Aperture 6: a 

The a has maximum aperture. This vowel 
has a nasaUzed form, a — slightly more con- 
tracted, to be sure — and a voiceless form, 

Chapter II 

1. Need for Studying Sounds in the Spoken Chain 

Detailed analyses of speech sounds can be found in special 
treatises, especially in the works of English phoneticians. 

Do detailed analyses alone fulfill the auxiliary role of phonology 
in the science of linguistics? Such a mass of details has no value in 
itself; only synthesis matters. The linguist does not need to be a 
consummate phonologist ; he asks only to be given certain data 
that are necessary for the study of language. 

The method of phonology is particularly faulty at one point: 
phonologists too often forget that language is made up not only of 


sounds but also of expanses of spoken sounds; they still do not 
devote enough attention to the reciprocal relations of sounds. 
These relations are not immediately discernible; syllables are 
easier to identify than their sounds. We have seen (pp. 25 ff.) that 
some primitive systems of writing noted syllabic units; only later 
was the alphabetic system devised. 

Besides, it is never a simple unit that proves embarrassing in 
linguistics. If at a particular moment every a became o in a par- 
ticular language, nothing would result from the change; the lin- 
guist may simply record the phenomenon without trying to explain 
it phonologically. The science of sounds becomes invaluable only 
when two or more elements are involved in a relationship based 
upon their inner dependence, for the variations of each element 
are limited by the variations of the other element or elements ; the 
single fact that there are two elements calls for a relationship and 
a rule — and this is quite different from a simple statement. In 
trying to find a phonological principle, this science is then contra- 
dicting itself by showing partiality to isolated sounds. Two pho- 
nemes are enough to lead to bewilderment. In Old High German, 
for instance, hagl, balg, wagn, lang, donr, dorn later became hagal, 
halg, wagan, lang, donnar, dorn; the result differs according to the 
nature and the order of the phonemes involved ; sometimes a vowel 
occurs between the original consonants, sometimes the combina- 
tion is left intact. But how can the law be formulated? Where did 
the difference originate? Doubtless in the combinations of the con- 
sonants {gl, Ig, gn, etc.) contained in the words. Each combination 
obviously contains an occlusive that is either preceded or followed 
by a liquid or a nasal. But what does that prove? As long as we look 
upon g and n as homogeneous quantities, we cannot understand 
why the mere order of contact in g-n and n-g should affect the 

Beside the phonology of species, there is then room for a com- 
pletely different science that uses binary combinations and se- 
quences of phonemes as a point of departure, and this is something 
else entirely. In the study of isolated sounds, to note the position 
of the vocal organs is sufficient ; the acoustical quality of a phoneme 
is not an issue, for it is determined by the ear; as for articulation, 


the speaker has unlimited freedom. But when we come to the 
pronunciation of two sounds that are joined, the problem is not 
so simple ; we must bear in mind the possible discrepancy between 
the effect desired and the effect produced. We do not alwaj^s have 
the ability to pronounce what we intend. Freedom in linking pho- 
nological species is checked by the possibility of linking articu- 
latory movements. To give an account of what takes place within 
groups, there should be a science of sound that would treat articu- 
latory movements like algebraic equations: a binary combination 
implies a certain number of mechanical and acoustical elements 
that mutually condition each other; the variation of one has a 
necessary and calculable repercussion on the others. In a pho- 
national act, the one thing which has a universal character that 
places it above all the local differences of its phonemes is the 
mechanical regularity of the articulatory movements. The impor- 
tance of combinatory phonology in general linguistics is obvious. 
Whereas traditional phonology generally gives rules for articulat- 
ing all sounds — variable and accidental elements of languages — 
and stops there, combinatory phonology limits the possibilities and 
defines the constant relations of interdependent phonemes. The 
case of hagl, balg, etc. (see p. 50) brings up the much discussed 
question of Proto-Indo-European sonants; now combinatory pho- 
nology is most helpful in resolving the question, for the syllabic 
grouping of phonemes is its sole concern from start to finish. 
Though that is not the only problem to be solved by the same 
method, one fact is certain; we simply cannot discuss the question 
of sonants unless we give full consideration to the laws that govern 
the combining of phonemes. 

2. Implosion and Explosion 

I shall start from a basic observation: there is a perceptible 
difference in the pronunciation of the two p's of appa. The first p 
results from closure, the second from release. The two impressions 
are so similar that phoneticians used a single p to transcribe the 
sequence pp (see p. 41, note). But we can use special signs (><) to 
indicate this difference between the two p's of appa (appa) and to 
identify them when they do not follow each other (cf . apta, aipa) . 


This distinction holds for all other occlusives and for fricatives 
{ajja) , nasals (aThma) , liquids (alia) , and for all phonemes in general, 
including all vowels except a{a6oa). 

Closure has been termed implosion and release explosion. A p is 
either implosive (p) or explosive (p). We may speak in the same 
sense of closing and opening sounds. 

Doubtless we can single out, besides implosion and explosion, an 
interval during which occlusion is prolonged at will; and if a 
phoneme has wider aperture (cf. the I of alia) the emission of the 
sound itself continues while the vocal organs remain motionless. 
Generally, all spoken chains contain intermediate stretches that I 
shall call holds or sistants. But they are like implosive articulations, 
for their effect is the same. In the following pages I am going to 
consider only implosions and explosions.® 

The method I have outlined would be unacceptable in a com- 
prehensive treatment of phonology, but it is justifiable in a sketch 
designed to reduce the essentials of syllabication to as simple a plan 
as possible. I do not pretend to resolve thereby all the difficulties 
brought about by dividing the spoken chain into syllables, but 
simply to provide a rational basis for studying the problem. 

One further remark. Opening and closing movements necessary 
for the emission of sounds must not be confused with the different 
apertures of the sounds themselves. Any given phoneme can be 
both implosive and explosive, but aperture does not influence 
implosion and explosion in the sense that the two movements be- 
come less distinct as aperture increases. In i, u, u the difference is 
still quite apparent ; in alia we can detect a closing i and an opening 
i: similarly, in auua, auua the implosive sound and the following 
explosive sound differ so sharply that writing sometimes breaks its 
regular pattern and records the difference; English w, German j, 

^ Saussure's treatment of holds is one of the most debatable points in his 
theory. To prevent certain objections one should note that any sistant (e.g. 
that in the articulation of/) is the result of two forces: (1) the pressure of air 
against the opposing organs and (2) the resistance of the organs as they tighten 
to equalize the pressure. A hold is thus only continued implosion. That is why 
the effect is the same throughout whenever a hold and an implosive sound of 
the same species are uttered in sequence. Accordingly, to unite the two types 
of articulation in one mechanical and acoustical entity is not illogical. 
Explosion, on the contrary, is opposed to both: by definition it is a release. 
See also Section 6. [Ed.i 


and often French y (in yeux 'eyes/ etc.) stand for opening sounds 
in opposition to u and i, which are used for u and I. But when the 
aperture is wider (e.g. e and o) it is hardly possible to distinguish 
between implosion and explosion in practice, although a difference 
is theoretically conceivable (cf. aeea, aboa). Finally, as we have 
already seen, maximum aperture wipes out all difference; a has 
neither implosion nor explosion. 

The table of phonemes must therefore be redoubled, except for 
a, and the following list of irreducible units set up : 



















Far from discarding the distinctions sanctioned by spelling (il, I), 
I shall carefully preserve them (w, y) ; justification for my view- 
point will be found below (see Section 7), 

For the first time we have broken away from abstraction. Now 
for the first time we have found the concrete, irreducible units that 
occupy a place and correspond to a beat in the spoken chain : p was 
nothing except an abstract unit linking the common characters of 
p and p, the only units that actually exist. In the same way, the 
still higher abstraction of "labiahty" links together P B M. We 
may speak of P as if it were a zoological species; there are male and 
female representatives of the species, but there is no ideal specimen. 
Before, we had been singling out and classifying the abstractions; 
but we had to go beyond the abstract to reach the concrete. 

Phonology made a great mistake in considering abstractions real 
units without examining more carefully the definition of the unit. 
The Greek alphabet was successful in singling out the abstract 
elements — an accomplishment that presupposes a most remark- 
able analysis (see p. 39) ; still, the analysis of the Greeks was in- 
complete, for it was not carried out fully. 

Exactly what is an unquaUfied p? Considered in time as part of 
the spoken chain, it is neither specifically p nor p, and still less pp, 


this combination being clearly decomposable ; and if we consider it 
outside the spoken chain, it is a thing which has no independent 
existence and with which we can do nothing. By itself, what does 
a combination like I + g mean? Two abstractions cannot form a 
moment in time. But to talk about Ik, tic, Ik, tk, and thus to draw 
together the genuine elements of speaking is quite different. Then 
we see why two elements suffice to embarrass traditional pho- 
nology, and the impossibility of working with abstract phonological 
units — as it did — is demonstrated. 

One theory states that in any simple phoneme considered in the 
chain (e.g., p in pa or aya), implosion and explosion {dpa) occur 
successively. Doubtless any release must be preceded by closure. 
To take still another example, in pronouncing fp I must first estab- 
lish closure for r, then articulate an opening r while closure for p is 
being formed by the lips. But I need only specify my viewpoint in 
order to answer that objection. In analyzing a phonational act, I 
shall consider only the differential elements that make a distinct 
impression on the ear, allowing delimitation of the acoustical units 
of the spoken chain. Only the acoustic-motor units are to be con- 
sidered; hence the articulation of explosive r along with implosive 
p is nonexistent to me, for it produces no perceptible sound, or at 
least is not important in the chain of phonemes. One must appreci- 
ate this basic point fully in order to understand the developments 
that follow. 

3. Different Combinations of Explosions and Implosions in the Chain 
Consider now what may result from each sequence of the four 
combinations of implosives and explosives that are theoretically 
possible: (1) <>, (2) ><, (3) «, (4) ». 

1) Explosive-Implosive Combination (<>). Without breaking 
the spoken chain, we can always join explosive and implosive pho- 
nemes: kf, pi, yrh, etc. (e.g. Sanskrit kfta-, Enghsh pity, Proto- 
Indo-European *yrhto-, etc.). Of course, some combinations hke kl, 
etc. have no practical acoustical effect, but the fact remains that 
the articulating of an opening k leaves the vocal organs in the right 
position for making closure at any given point. The two pho- 
national movements do not interfere with each other. 

2) Implosive-Explosive Combination (><). Under the same con- 


ditions — and with the same reservations — it is always possible to 
join implosive and explosive phonemes: im, Jet, etc. (e.g. Greek 
haima, English active, etc.). 

Of course the successive articulatory moments do not follow each 
other so naturally as they do in the reverse order of combination 1. 
The difference between initial implosions and explosions is this: 
explosion, which tends to neutralize the vocal organs, does not 
engage the following moment; but implosion sets up a definite 
position that cannot be the point of departure for just any ex- 
plosion. For that reason one must always resort to some facilitating 
movement to put the organs necessary for articulating the second 
phoneme into the right position. While executing s in sp, for 
instance, the hps must close to prepare for opening p. But ex- 
perience shows that the facilitating movement has no appreciable 
effect. It produces only a furtive sound that in no way interferes 
with the succession of the chain. 

3) Implosive Link («) . Two consecutive explosions can be pro- 
duced, but if the second belongs to a phoneme of less or of equal 
aperture, the impression of acoustical unity that results in the 
opposite case or in the sequences of combinations 1 and 2 will be 
missing: pk can be pronounced (pka), but these sounds do not form 
a chain, for the P and K species have the same aperture. This 
rather unnatural pronunciation would result from stopping after 
the first a of cha-pka.'' On the contrary, pr gives the impression of 
continuity (cf . price) ; nor does fy cause difficulty (cf . French rien 
'nothing'). Why? Because at the very instant the first explosion 
occurs, the vocal organs have already assumed the right position 
for executing the second explosion without interfering with the 
acoustical effect of the first; thus the organs are already in position 
for the r of price while p is being pronounced. But it is impossible 
to pronounce the reverse series rp, not because this is mechanically 
impossible (we can prepare for p while articulating opening f), but 
because the movement of the f, coming against the smaller aper- 
ture of p, would be imperceptible. Two separate movements would 

^ To be sure combinations of explosive phonemes having the same aperture 
are very common in some languages (e.g. initial kt in Greek; cf. ktelno); al- 
though these combinations are easy to pronounce, they lack acoustical unity. 
(See the following note.) 


be required to make fp audible, and the emission would be inter- 

A continuous explosive link may include more than two elements 
provided that each successive aperture is wider than the preceding 
one (e.g. kfwa). Aside from a few special cases which I cannot dis- 
cuss in detail,^ the natural limit of the possible number of ex- 
plosions is the number of degrees of aperture distinguishable in 

4) Implosive Link (>>). The reverse law governs the implosive 
link : whenever a particular phoneme is more open than the f ollow-_ 
ing one, the impression of continuity persists (e.g. if, ft); if this 
condition is not met — if the following phoneme is more open or has 
the same aperture — pronunciation is still possible, but the impres- 
sion of continuity is lacking : sf in dsfta is basically the same as pJc 
in cha-pka (see p. 55). This phenomenon parallels the one an- 
alyzed in the explosive link in every way : in ft the i, by virtue of its 
narrower aperture, exempts r from explosion; in a link like fm, 
made up of phonemes with different points of articulation, rh does 
not exempt f from exploding but brings about the same result by 
covering its explosion completely. Otherwise, as in the reverse 
order mf, the furtive, mechanically indispensable explosion breaks 
the spoken chain. 

An implosive link, hke an explosive one, obviously can include 
more than two elements if each has wider aperture than the follow- 
ing one (cf. dfst). 

Leaving aside the breaking of links, we turn now to the normal 
continuous chain — one that might be termed physiological — as rep- 

* Through dehberate over-simpUfication, Saussure considers here only the 
degree of aperture of the phoneme, not the place and specific nature of its 
articulation (whether voiceless or voiced, vibrant or lateral, etc.)- Conclusions 
drawn from the principle of aperture alone are not applicable without exception 
to all actual cases. In a sequence like trya, for instance, only with difficulty can 
the first three elements be pronounced without breaking the chain: ifyd 
(unless y palatalizes the r and merges with it) ; but the three elements in try 
make a perfect explosive link (cf. also p. 63 concerning meurtrier, etc.); trwa, 
on the contrary, offers no difficulty. Links like pmla, etc., where it is difficult 
to avoid pronouncing the nasal implosively (pmld), should also be cited. The 
aberrant cases show up especially in explosion, an instantaneous act that 
tolerates absolutely no hindrances. [Ed.] 


resented by French particuUerement: pdfiikulyerrhd.^ 
The chain is characterized by a succession of graduated links cor- 
responding to a succession of releases and closures of the vocal 

The normal chain thus defined makes possible the following 
observations which are of capital importance. 

4. Syllabic Boundary and Vocalic Peak 

Passing from an implosion to an explosion in a chain of sounds 
_produces a peculiar effect that marks the syllabic boundary (e.g. 
the ik of particuUerement) . The regular coincidence of a mechanical 
principle and a definite acoustical effect assures the implosive- 
explosive combination of a right to existence in phonology. Its 
character persists regardless of the species that compose it. It 
constitutes a type that contains as many species as there are 
possible combinations. 

The syllabic boundary sometimes occurs at different points in 
the same series of phonemes, depending on the speed of passage 
from implosion to explosion. In ardra, for instance, neither the 
division dfdfd nor the division dfdfd breaks the chain, for both the 
implosive link dfd and the explosive link df are graduated. The 
same would apply to Ulye of particuUerement (ulye or ulye) . 

Next, we notice that in passing from silence to initial implosion 
(>) — e.g. art in artist— or from explosion to implosion (<>) e.g. part 
in particuUerement — the sound where the initial implosion occurs 
is distinguished from neighboring sounds by its own vocalic effect. 
In no way does the vocalic effect depend on the wider aperture of 
the sound a, for in pft, r produces the same effect; it is inherent in 
initial implosions regardless of their phonological species, i.e., their 
degree of aperture ; whether the implosion comes after a silence or 
after an explosion matters little. A sound that makes a vocalic 
impression is a vocalic peak. 

Vocalic peaks have also been called sonants, and all other sounds 
in the same syllable con-sonants [consonantcs]. Vowels and con- 
sonants [consonnes] designate different species (see p. 48) ; sonants 

^ Note the difference in the syllabication of English particularly [par tik 
iu iaf ii]. [Tr.] 


and con-sonants, on the other hand, designate functions within 
syllables. The dual system of terminology clears up the confusion 
that has existed for a long time. Thus the / species is the same in 
French fidele 'faithful' and pied 'foot'; it is a vowel ;^° but it is a 
sonant in fidele and a con-sonant in pied. Analysis shows that 
sonants are always implosive while non-sonants may be either 
implosive (e.g. I in English hoi, written hoy) or explosive (e.g. y in 
French fye, written pied). Analysis only confirms the distinction 
set up between the two classes. Regularly, e, o, a are sonants, but 
this is merely a coincidence : having wider aperture than any of the 
other sounds, they are always at the beginning of an implosive 
chain. Conversely occlusives, which have minimum aperture, are 
always con-sonants. In practice phonemes of apertures 2, 3, and 4 
(nasals, liquids, and semivowels) play either role, depending on 
contiguous sounds and the nature of their articulation. 

5. Criticism of Theories of Syllahication 

The ear perceives syllabic division in every spoken chain ; it also 
perceives a sonant in every syllable. One can accept both facts and 
still wonder why they should hold true. Different explanations 
have been offered. 

1) Noticing that some phonemes are more sonorous than others, 
some scholars have tried to base syllables on the sonority of pho- 
nemes. But how is it that sonorous phonemes like i and u do not 
necessarily form syllables? Besides, where does sonority stop since 
fricatives like s are syllabic (e.g. pst)l If only the relative sonority 
of sounds in contact is at stake, how can one explain such com- 
binations as wl (e.g. Proto-Indo-European *wlkos 'wolf'), where 
the least sonorous element is syllabic? 

2) E. Sievers was the first to show that a sound classed as a 
vowel does not necessarily make a vocalic impression (e.g. we saw 
above, p. 52 f., that y and w are nothing except i and u) ; but one 
who asks why a sound should have a dual function — or a dual acous- 
tical effect, for "function" means just that — is given this reply : 
the function of a given sound depends on whether the sound re- 
ceives the "syllabic accent." 

This is a vicious circle. If I am free under all circumstances to 
"Cf. English /ee [fij] and few [fju]. [Tr.] 


place the syllabic accent that creates sonants wherever I choose, 
then the accent might as well be called sonantic. But if syllabic 
means anything, its meaning must derive from the laws of the 
syllable. Not only are such laws lacking, but the sonantic quahty is 
described as silbenbildend, as if the formation of syllables depended 
on syllabic accent. 

The difference between our method and (1) and (2) above is 
obvious: by analyzing syllables as they occur in the chain, we found 
the irreducible units, opening and closing sounds; then by com-_ 
bining these units, we were able to define the syllabic boundary_ 
and vocalic peak. Now we know the physiological conditions under 
which the acoustical effects must occur. The theories criticized 
above follow the opposite course: from isolated phonological 
species, the proponents of the theories pretend to deduce the 
boundary of the syllable and the position of the sonant. In a given 
series of phonemes, one pronunciation may be more natural and 
easier than another; but by and large the possibility of choosing 
between opening and closing articulations persists, and syl- 
labication depends on the choice rather than directly on phono- 
logical species. 

Doubtless my theory neither exhausts nor resolves all questions. 
Hiatus, for example, which occurs very frequently, is simply a 
broken implosive link, deliberate or unintentional: e.g. i-d (in 
French il cria 'he shouted') and d-l (in French ebahi 'amazed')." It 
occurs more easily when the phonological species have wide 

There are also broken explosive links which, though ungradu- 
ated, fall into a phonetic chain just as do normal groups. I men- 
tioned one example earlier, kteino (see p. 55, note). Or take the 
sequence -pzta: normally it can be pronounced only pzta; it should 
comprise two syllables, and it does have two if the laryngeal sound 
of z is pronounced distinctly; but if z is muffled, the opposition 
between it and a is insufficient since z is one of the phonemes that 
require least aperture; the result is that only one syllable is per- 
ceived and something like 'pzld is heard. 

In all broken explosive finks, when wifi and intention interfere, 
to some extent it wifi be possible to eschew physiological neces- 

" Cf. English rearm (z-d) and Aida (d-t). [Tr.] 


sities. Determining what is wilful and what is physiological is often 
difficult. But phonation depends on a succession of implosions and 
explosions, and this is basic in syllabication. 

6. Length of Implosion and Explosion 

Our explanation of syllables in terms of the functioning of 
explosions and implosions leads to an important observation that 
is simply a generalization of a metrical fact. We can separate two 
types of long vowels in Latin and Greek: those long by nature 
(mater) and those long by position (f actus). Why is fac counted long 
in f actus? because of the at combination? No, for if the combination 
alone determined length, every syllable beginning with two con- 
sonants would also be long; but this is not true (cf. cliens, etc.). 

The real reason is that explosion and implosion are basically 
different with respect to length. The first is always so rapid that 
it cannot be measured by the ear; for that reason also, it never 
makes a vocalic impression. Only implosion is measurable; hence 
we feel that we dwell longer on the vowel where implosion begins. 

Besides, we know that vowels which occur before a combination 
of an occlusive or fricative and a liquid are treated in two ways: 
the a in patron may be either long or short ; the principle is the same 
in either instance. Actually if and If are pronounced with equal 
ease ; the first method of articulation allows a to remain short ; the 
second creates a long syllable. The same dual treatment of a is not 
possible in a word hke f actus; ci can be pronounced, but ct cannot. 

7. Phonemes of Aperture 4; Diphthongs; Questions about 

Finally, the phonemes of aperture 4 call for some additional 
remarks. We have seen that, contrary to what happens with other 
sounds, usage has sanctioned a double set of graphs (w = u,u = H; 
y = I, i = i) for the phonemes of aperture 4 (see p. 53). The reason 
is simple : in groups like aiya, auwa the distinction between release 
and closure is more striking than elsewhere; z and H make a clear 
vocalic impression, I and il a consonantal impression.^ Without 

^^ The i of aperture 4 must not be confused with the soft palatal fricative 
(e.g. the g in North German liegen), a phonological species that has all the 
characteristics of a consonant. [S.] 


pretending to explain the fact, I wish to point out that consonantal 
i is never accompanied by closure : the I in ai never has the same 
effect as the y in aiya (cf . English hoy and French 'pied) ; through 
position, then, ?/ is a consonant and i a vowel, for these variations 
of the I species do not occur indifferently. The same remarks apply 
to u and w, ii and iv. 

The preceding discussion clarifies the question of the diphthong. 
It is only a special kind of implosive link; dfta and duta are abso- 
lutely parallel; only the aperture of the second element is different. 
A diphthong is an implosive link in which the second phoneme is 
relatively open, making a specific acoustical impression. We might 
say that the sonant continues in the second element of the com- 
bination. Conversely, a combination like iya is distinguished from 
a combination like tfa only by the degree of aperture of the last 
explosive. This means that what phonologists call ascending diph- 
thongs are not really diphthongs but explosive-im plosive combina- 
tions in which the first element does not produce a specific acous- 
tical effect even though it is relatively open (tyd). Combinations 
like uo, !a, with the accent on H and ^ (e.g. buoh, liab in certain 
German dialects), are also false diphthongs that fail to make the 
impression of unity produced by 6u, di, etc.; we cannot pronounce 
Ho as implosive + implosive and avoid breaking the link with- 
out calhng in some device to impose an artificial unity on the 

Our definition of the diphthong — which relates it to the general 
principle of implosive links — shows that it is not, as one might 
think, an incongruous something not to be classed among phono- 
logical phenomena; there is no need for putting it into a special 
category. The uniqueness of the diphthong is really of no interest 
or importance ; the important thing is to determine, not the end of 
the sonant, but its beginning. 

E, Sievers and many other linguists make a distinction in writing 
between i, u, ii, r, rj,, etc. and f, u, ii, r, n, etc. (} = unsilhisches i, 
i = silhisches i) ; they write mirta, niairta, miarta while I write 
mirta, mairta, myarta. Having noticed that i and y belong to the 
same phonological species, they wanted especially to have a single 
generic sign for both (still clinging to the notion that a chain of 
sound is composed of species in juxtaposition). Their transcription, 


though based on oral evidence, is illogical and eliminates the very 
distinction that should be made: (1) opening i,u{= y, w) are con- 
fused with closing i, u (e.g. they cannot distinguish between newo 
and neuo) ; conversely, closing i, u are sliced in two (cf . mirta and 
mairta). Here are some examples of difficulties that result from 
using Siever's system. First, Old Greek dwis and duls against rhewd 
and rheuma. The two oppositions occur under exactly the same 
phonological conditions and are usually indicated by the same 
graphic symbols. The u is either opening (w) or closing (u) depend- 
ing upon whether the following phoneme is more open or more 
closed. But the transcription duis, duis, rheuo, rhey,ina wipes out 
completely these oppositions. Similarly, in Proto-Indo-European 
the two series mater, mdtrai, mater es, mdtrsu and suneu, sunewai, 
sunewes, sunusu are strictly parallel in their dual treatment of both 
r and u. In the second series at least, the opposition between implo- 
sives and explosives is crystal clear in writing. But the transcription 
that I have criticized {suneu, suneuai, suneues, sunusu) obscures 
the opposition. Existing distinctions between opening and closing 
sounds (u, w, etc.) should not only be preserved but extended to 
cover the whole system. Thus we should write mater, mdtpai, 
mdtepes, mdtrsu; then the functioning of syllabication would stand 
out; vocalic peaks and syllabic boundaries would be revealed. 

Editor's Note. The theories discussed above throw light on 
several problems, some of which Saussure touched upon in his 
lectures. We shall give a few examples. 

1) Sievers cites heritrynnn (German herittenen) as a typical 
example to show that a single sound may alternately function twice 
as a sonant and twice as a non-sonant (actually n functions only 
once as a con-sonant, and the word should be transcribed heritrinn,, 
but that matters little) . No example would show more clearly that 
"sound" and "species" are not synonymous. For if we dwell on the 
n, i.e. implosion and sistant articulation, the result is only a long 
syllable. To create an alternation of sonantic and con-sonantic n's, 
we would have to pass from implosion (first n) to explosion (second 
n) and back to implosion (third n). Since the two implosions are 
preceded by no other implosion, both are sonantic. 

2) In French words like meurtrier 'murderer,' ouvrier 'worker/ 


etc., final -trier, -vrier formed only one syllable regardless of how 
they were actually pronounced (cf. p. 56, note). Later, speakers 
began to pronounce them in two syllables (meur-tri-er, with or 
without hiatus, i.e. -IfU or ifiye). The change was brought about, 
not by placing a "syllabic accent" on the i element, but by chang- 
ing its explosive articulation to implosive. 

The \iilgar pronunciation of ouvrier is ouverier}^ This change is 
similar to the dividing of -vrier into two syllables, but here the 
second element (r) rather than the third changed its articulation 
and became a sonant : uvfye -^ uvfye. An e subsequently developed 
in front of sonantic r. 

3) We might also cite the well-known case of prosthetic vowels 
in front of s followed by a consonant in French : Latin scutum -^ 
iscutum —^ French escu, ecu 'shield.' Here sk is a broken link 
(see p. 55) ; sk is more natural. But implosive s serves as a vocalic 
peak when at the beginning of the sentence or when the preceding 
word ends in a consonant with weak aperture. Prosthetic i and e 
only exaggerate the sonantic quality of s: any perceptible phono- 
logical characteristic tends to become more pronounced whenever 
speakers try to preserve it. The same phenomenon is responsible 
for esclandre 'scandal' and the vulgar pronunciations esquelette, 
estatue (Standard French squelette 'skeleton,' statue 'statue') ; it also 
shows up in the vulgar pronunciation of the preposition de 'of,' 
transcribed ed: un oeil ed tanche 'a tench's eye.' Through syncope 
de tanche became d'tanche; but to be perceptible in this position 
d must be implosive (dianche) ; the result was again the develop- 
ment of a prosthetic vowel. 

4) It is scarcely necessary to come back to Indo-European so- 
nants and to ask, for example, why Old High German hagl changed 
to hagal while balg remained intact. Here the /, the second element 
of an implosive link (bdlg), functioned as a con-sonant and had no 
reason to change its function. But the I of hagl, also implosive, was 
a vocalic peak. Being sonantic, it developed a more open prosthetic 
vowel (an a if we accept spelling as evidence). The vowel became 
less distinct with the passage of time, however, and today Hagel is 

" Cf. English burglar. [Tr.] 


again pronounced hdgl The quality of the I is responsible for the 
difference between the pronunciation of the German word and 
French aigle 'eagle' : Hagel has a closing / while the French word 
has an opening / followed by a mute e (egh). 

General Principles 

Chapter I 

1. Sign, Signified, Signifier 

Some people regard language, when reduced to its elements, as 
a naming-process only — a list of words, each corresponding to the 
thing that it names. For example : 

This conception is open to criticism at several points. It assumes 
that ready-made ideas exist before words (on this point, see below, 
p. Ill) ; it does not tell us whether a name is vocal or psychological 
in nature (arbor, for instance, can be considered from either view- 
point) ; finally, it lets us assume that the linking of a name and a 
thing is a very simple operation — an assumption that is anything 
but true. But this rather naive approach can bring us near the 
truth by showing us that the linguistic unit is a double entity, one 
formed by the associating of two terms. 




We have seen in considering the speaking-circuit (p. 11) that 
both terms involved in the linguistic sign are psychological and are 



united in the brain by an associative bond. This point must be 

The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept 
and a sound-image.^ The latter is not the material sound, a purely- 
physical thing, but the psychological imprint of the sound, the 
impression that it makes on our senses. The sound-image is sensory, 
and if I happen to call it "material," it is only in that sense, and by 
way of opposing it to the other term of the association, the concept, 
which is generally more abstract. 

The psychological character of our sound-images becomes ap- 
parent when we observe our own speech. Without moving our lips 
or tongue, we can talk to ourselves or recite mentally a selection of 
verse. Because we regard the words of our language as sound- 
images, we must avoid speaking of the "phonemes" that make up 
the words. This term, which suggests vocal activity, is applicable 
to the spoken word only, to the realization of the inner image in 
discourse. We can avoid that misunderstanding by speaking of the 
sounds and syllables of a word provided we remember that the 
names refer to the sound-image. 

The linguistic sign is then a two-sided psychological entity that 
can be represented by the drawing : 

The two elements are intimately united, and each recalls the 
other. Whether we try to find the meaning of the Latin word arbor 
or the word that Latin uses to designate the concept "tree," it is 

* The term sound-image may seem to be too restricted inasmuch as beside 
the representation of the sounds of a word there is also that of its articulation, 
the muscular image of the phonational act. But for F. de Saussure language is 
essentially a depository, a thing received from without (see p. 13). The sound- 
image is par excellence the natural representation of the word as a fact of 
potential language, outside any actual use of it in speaking. The motor side is 
thus implied or, in any event, occupies only a subordinate role with respect 
to the sound-image. [Ed.] 



clear that only the associations sanctioned by that language appeal 
to us to conform to reality, and we disregard whatever others 
might be imagined. 

Our definition of the linguistic sign poses an important question 
of terminology. I call the combination of a concept and a sound- 
image a sign, but in current usage the term generally designates 
only a sound-image, a word, for example {arbor, etc.). One tends 
to forget that arbor is called a sign only because it carries the con- 
cept "tree," with the result that the idea of the sensory part 
imphes the idea of the whole. 

f t 

Ambiguity would disappear if the three notions involved here 
were designated by three names, each suggesting and opposing the 
others. I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the 
/"whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by 
\signi££d^ [signifie] and signifier [signifiant] ; the last two terms have 
the advantage of indicatmg the opposition that separates them 
from each other and from the whole of which they are parts. As 
regards sign, if I am satisfied with it, this is simply because I do not 
know of any word to replace it, the ordinary language suggesting 
no other. 

The linguistic sign, as defined, has two primordial character- 
istics. In enunciating them I am also positing the basic principles of 
any study of this type. 


2. Principle I: The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign 

The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. 
Since I mean by sign the whole that results from the associating of 
the signifier with the signified, I can simply say: the linguistic sign 
is arbitrary. 

The idea of "sister" is not linked by any inner relationship to 
the succession of sounds s-6-r which serves as its signifier in French ; 


that it could be represented equally by just any other sequence is 
proved by differences among languages and by the very existence 
of different languages: the signified "ox" has as its signifier 6-6-/ 
on one side of the border and o-k-s (Ochs) on the other. 

No one disputes the principle of the arbitrary nature of the sign, 
but it is often easier to discover a truth than to assign to it its 
proper place. Principle I dominates all the linguistics of language; 
its consequences are numberless. It is true that not all of them are 
equally obvious at first glance; only after many detours does one 
discover them, and with them the primordial importance of the 

One remark in passing: when semiology becomes organized as 
a science, the question will arise whether or not it properly includes 
modes of expression based on completely natural signs, such as 
pantomime. Supposing that the new science welcomes them, its 
main concern will still be the whole group of systems grounded on 
the arbitrariness of the sign. In fact, every means of expression used 
in society is based, in principle, on collective behavior or — what 
amounts to the same thing — on convention. Polite formulas, for 
instance, though often imbued with a certain natural expressive- 
ness (as in the case of a Chinese who greets his emperor by bowing 
down to the ground nine times), are nonetheless fixed by rule; it is 
this rule and not the intrinsic value of the gestures that obliges one 
to use them. Signs that are wholly arbitrary realize better thg,n the 
others the ideal of the semiological process; that is why langu^^, 
the most complex and^universal of all systems of expression, is als(r 
the most characteristic; in this sense linguistics can become the 
master-pattern for all branches of semiology although language is 
only one particular semiological system. 
f^~.!The word sywhol has been used to designate the linguistic sign, 
or more specifically, what is here called the signifier. Principle I in 
particular weighs against the use of this term. One characteristic 
of the symbol is that it is never wholly arbitrary; it is not empty, 
for there is the rudiment of a natural bond between the signifier 
and the signified. The symbol of justice, a pair of scales, could not 
be replaced by just any other symbol, such as a chariot. 

The word arbitrary also calls for comment. The term should not 


imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker 
(we shall see below that the individual does not have the power to 
change a sign in any way once it has become established in the 
linguistic community) ; I mean that it is unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary 
in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified. 

In concluding let us consider two objections that might be raised 
to the establishment of Principle I : 

1) Onomatopoeia might be used to prove that the choice of the 
signifier is not always arbitrary. But onomatopoeic formations are 
never organic elements of a linguistic system. Besides, their number 
is much smaller than is generally supposed. Words like French 
fouet 'whip' or glas 'knell' may strike certain ears with suggestive 
sonority, but to see that they have not always had this property 
we need only examine their Latin forms (fouet is derived from fdgus 
'beech-tree,' glas from dassimim 'sound of a trumpet'). The quahty 
of their present sounds, or rather the quality that is attributed to 
them, is a fortuitous result of phonetic evolution. 

As for authentic onomatopoeic words (e.g. glug-glug, tick-tock, 
etc.), not only are they limited in number, but also they are chosen 
somewhat arbitrarily, for they are only approximate and more or 
less conventional imitations of certain sounds (cf . English bow-bow 
and French ouaoua). In addition, once these words have been intro- 
duced into the language, they are to a certain extent subjected to 
the same evolution — phonetic, morphological, etc. — that other 
words undergo (cf. pigeon, ultimately from Vulgar Latin plpio, 
derived in turn from an onomatopoeic formation) : obvious proof 
that they lose something of their original character in order to 
assume that of the linguistic sign in general, which is unmotivated. 

2) Interjections, closely related to onomatopoeia, can be at- 
tacked on the same grounds and come no closer to refuting our 
thesis. One is tempted to see in them spontaneous expressions of 
reality dictated, so to speak, by natural forces. But for most inter- 
jections we can show that there is no fixed bond between their sig- 
nified and their signifier. We need only compare two languages on 
this point to see how much such expressions differ from one lan- 
guage to the next (e.g. the English equivalent of French ate! is 
ouch!). We know, moreover, that many interjections were once 


words with specific meanings (of. French diable! 'darn!' mordieu! 
'golly!' from mort Dieu 'God's death,' etc.)-^ 

Onomatopoeic formations and interjections are of secondary 
importance, and their symbolic origin is in part open to dispute. 

3. Principle II: The Linear Nature of the Signifier 

The signifier, being auditory, is unfolded solely in time from 
which it gets the following characteristics : (a) it represents a span, 
and (b) the span is measurable in a single dimension; it is a line. 
While Principle II is obvious, apparently hnguists have always 
neglected to state it, doubtless because they found it too simple; 
nevertheless, it is fundamental, and its consequences are incal- 
culable. Its importance equals that of Principle I; the whole 
mechanism of language depends upon it (see p. 122 f.). In contrast 
to visual signifiers (nautical signals, etc.) which can offer simul- 
taneous groupings in several dimensions, auditory signifiers have 
at their command only the dimension of time. Their elements are 
presented in succession; they form a chain. This feature becomes 
readily apparent when they are represented in writing and the 
spatial line of graphic marks is substituted for succession in time. 
Sometimes the linear nature of the signifier is not obvious. When 
I accent a syllable, for instance, it seems that I am concentrating 
more than one significant element on the same point. But this is an 
illusion ; the S3'^llable and its accent constitute only one phonational 
act. There is no duality within the act but only different op- 
positions to what precedes and what follows (on this subject, see 
p. 131). 

*Cf. English goodness! and zounds! (from God's wounds). [Tr.] 


Chapter II 

1. Immutability 

The signifier, though to all appearances freely chosen with re- 
spect to the idea that it represents, is fixed, not free, with respect 
to the linguistic community that uses it. The masses have no voice 
in the matter, and the signifier chosen by language could be re- 
placed by no other. This fact, which seems to embody a contradic- 
tion, might be called colloquially "the stacked deck." We say to 
language: "Choose!" but we add: "It must be this sign and no 
other." No individual, even if he willed it, could modify in any 
way at all the choice that has been made; and what is more, the 
community itself cannot control so much as a single word; it is 
bound to the existing language. 

No longer can language be identified with a contract pure and 
simple, and it is precisely from this viewpoint that the linguistic 
sign is a particularly interesting object of study; for language 
furnishes the best proof that a law accepted by a community is a 
thing that is tolerated and not a rule to which all freely consent. 

Let us first see why we cannot control the linguistic sign and then 
draw together the important consequences that issue from the 

No matter what period we choose or how far back we go, lan- 
guage always appears as a heritage of the preceding period. We 
might conceive of an act by which, at a given moment, names were 
assigned to things and a contract was formed between concepts 
and sound-images; but such an act has never been recorded. The 
notion that things might have happened like that was prompted 
by our acut£^a;feness-QLthe-^l5itFary_Jiature. of the sign. 

No society, in fact, knows or has ever known language other than 
as a product inherited from preceding generations, and one to be 
accepted as such. That is why the question of the origin of speech 


is not so important as it is generally assumed to be. The question^ 
is not even worth asking; the only real object of linguistics is the^ 
normal, regular life of an existing- idioin.,^A particular language-' 
state is always the product of historical forces, and these forces 
explain why the sign is unchangeable, i.e. why it resists any 
arbitrary substitution. 

Nothing is explained by saying that language is something 
inherited and leaving it at that. Can not existing and inherited 
laws be modified from one moment to the next? 

To meet that objection, we must put language into its social 
setting and frame the question just as we would for any other 
social institution. How are other social institutions transmitted? 
This more general question includes the question of immutability. 
We must first determine the greater or lesser amounts of freedom 
that the other institutions enjoy; in each instance it will be seen 
that a different proportion exists between fixed tradition and the 
free action of society. The next step is to discover why in a given 
category, the forces of the first type carry more weight or less 
weight than those of the second. Finally, coming back to language, 
we must ask why the historical factor of transmission dominates it 
entirely and prohibits any sudden widespread change. 

There are many possible answers to the question. For example, 
one might point to the fact that succeeding generations are not 
superimposed on one another like the drawers of a piece of furni- 
ture, but fuse and interpenetrate, each generation embracing in- 
dividuals of all ages— with the result that modifications of language 
are not tied to the succession of generations. One might also recall 
the sum of the efforts required for learning the mother language 
and conclude that a general change would be impossible. Again, 
it might be added that reflection does not enter into the active use 
of an idiom — speakers are largely unconscious of the laws of lan- 
guage; and if they are unaware of them, how could they modify 
them? Even if they were aware of these laws, we may be sure that 
their awareness would seldom lead to criticism, for people are 
generally satisfied with the language they have received. 

The foregoing considerations are important but not topical. The 
following are more basic and direct, and all the others depend on 


1) The arbitrary nature of the sign. Above, we had to accept the 
theoretical possibility of change; further reflection suggests that 
the arbitrary nature of the sign is really what protects language 
from any attempt to modify it. Even if people were more conscious 
of language than they are, they would still not know how to discuss 
it. The reason is simply that any subject in order to be discussed 
must have a reasonable basis. It is possible, for instance, to discuss 
whether the monogamous form of marriage is more reasonable. than 
the polygamous form and to advance arguments to support either 

^side. One could also argue about a system of symbols, for the sym- 
\ bol has a rational relationship with the thing signified (see p. 68) ; 
) but language is a system of arbitrary signs and lacks the necessary 
; basis, the solid ground for discussion. There is no reason for 
-pfefe rring soeurjia^istexi^OchsAo boeuf, etc. — "^ 

2) The multiplicity of signs necessary to form any language. 
Another important deterrent to linguistic change is the great num- 
ber of signs that must go into the making of any language. A 
system of writing comprising twenty to forty letters can in case 
of need be replaced by another system. The same would be true 
of language if it contained a limited number of elements; but 
linguistic signs are numberless. 

3) The over-complexity of the system. A language constitutes a 
system. In this one respect (as we shall see later) language is not 
completely arbitrary but is ruled to some extent by logic; it is 
here also, however, that the inability of the masses to transform 
it becomes apparent. The system is a complex mechanism that can 
be grasped only through reflection ; the very ones who use it daily 
are ignorant of it. We can conceive of a change only through the 
intervention of specialists, grammarians, logicians, etc.; but ex- 
perience shows us that all such meddlings have failed. 

4) Collective inertia toward innovation. Language — and this con- 
sideration surpasses all the others^ — is at every moment every- 
body's concern ; spread throughout society and manipulated by it, 
language is something used daily by all. Here we are unable to set 
up any comparison between it and other institutions. The pre- 
scriptions of codes, religious rites, nautical signals, etc., involve 
only a certain number of individuals simultaneously and then only 


during a limited period of time; in language, on the contrary, every- 
one participates at all times, and that is why it is constantly being 
influenced by all. This capital fact suffices to show the impossibility 
of revolution. Of all social institutions, language is least amenable 
to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert 
by nature, is a prime conservative force. 

But to say that language is a product of social forces does not 
suffice to show clearly that it is unfree; remembering that it is 
always the heritage ot the preceding period, we must add that these 
social forces are linked with time. Language is checked not only by 
the weight of the collectivity but also by time. These two are in- 
separable. At every moment solidarity with the past checks free- 
dom of choice. We say man and dog. This does not prevent the 
existence in the total phenomenon of a bond between the two 
antithetical forces — arbitrary convention by virtue of which choice 
is free and time which causes choice to be fixed. Because the sign 
is arbitrary, it follows no law other than that of tradition, and 
because it is based on tradition, it is arbitrary. 

2. Mutability 

Time, which insures the continuity of language, wields another 
influence apparently contradictory to the first: the more or less 
rapid change of linguistic signs. In a certain sense, therefore, we 
can speak of both the immutability and the mutability of the sign.' 

In the last analysis, the two facts are interdependent: the sign 
is exposed to alteration because it perpetuates itself. What pre- 
dominates in all change is the persistence of the old substance; 
disregard for the past is only relative. That is why the principle 
of change is based on the principle of continuity. 

Change in time takes many forms, on any one of which an im- 
portant chapter in linguistics might be written. Without entering 
into detail, let us see what things need to be delineated. 

First, let there be no mistake about the meaning that we attach 

to the word change. One might think that it deals especially with 

^ It would be wrong to reproach F. de Saussure for being illogical or para- 
doxical in attributing two contradictory qualities to language. By opposing 
two striking terms, he wanted only to emphasize the fact that language changes 
in spite of the inability of speakers to change it. One can also say that it is 
intangible but not unchangeable. [Ed.] 


phonetic changes undergone by the signifier, or perhaps changes in 
meaning which affect the signified concept. That view would be 
inadequate. Regardless of what the forces of change are, whether 
in isolation or in combination, they always result in a shift in the 
relationship between the signified and the signifier. 

Here are some examples. Latin necare 'kill' became noyer 'drown' 
in French. Both the sound-image and the concept changed; but it 
is useless to separate the two parts of the phenomenon; it is 
sufficient to state with respect to the whole that the bond between 
the idea and the sign was loosened, and that there was a shift in 
their relationship. If instead of comparing Classical Latin necare 
with French noyer, we contrast the former term with necare of 
Vulgar Latin of the fourth or fifth century meaning 'drown' the 
case is a little different; but here again, although there is no 
appreciable change in the signifier, there is a shift in the relation- 
ship between the idea and the sign.* 

Old German dritteil 'one-third' became Drittel in Modern Ger- 
man. Here, although the concept remained the same, the relation- 
ship was changed in two ways : the signifier was changed not only 
in its material aspect but also in its grammatical form ; the idea of 
Teil 'part' is no longer implied; Drittel is a simple word. In one way 
or another there is always a shift in the relationship. 

In Anglo-Saxon the preliterary form fot 'foot' remained while its 

plural *f6ti became fet (Modern English feet) . Regardless of the 

other changes that are implied, one thing is certain: there was a 

shift in their relationship; other correspondences between the 

phonetic substance and the idea emerged. -- — ^ 

I Language is radically powerless to defend itself against the 

[forces which from one moment to the next are shifting the relation- 

i ship between the signified and the signifier. This is one of the 

t consequences of the arbitrary nature of the sign. I 

Unlike laligtra^e, other human institutions — customs, laws, etc. 
— are all based in varying degrees on the natural relations of things ; 
all have of necessity adapted the means employed to the ends 
pursued. Even fashion in dress is not entirely arbitrary; we can 
deviate only slightly from the conditions dictated by the human 

* From May to July of 1911, Saussure used interchangeably the old termi- 
nology {idea and sign) and the new {signified and signifier). [Tr.] 


body. Language is limited by nothing in the choice of means, for 
apparently nothing would prevent the associating of any idea 
whatsoever with just any sequence of sounds. 

To emphasize the fact that language is a genuine institution, 
Whitney quite justly insisted upon the arbitrary nature of signs; 
and by so doing, he placed linguistics on its true axis. But he did 
not follow through and see that the arbitrariness of language radi- 
cally separates it from all other institutions. This is apparent from 
the way in which language evolves. Nothing could be more com- 
plex. As it is a product of both the social force and time, no one 
can change anything in it, and on the other hand, the arbitrariness! 
of its signs theoretically entails the freedom of establishing_ju§l\ 
any relationship between phonetic substance and ideas. iThe result 
is that each of the two elements united in the sign maintains its 
own life to a degree unknown elsewhere, and that language 
changes, or rather evolves, under the influence of all the forces 
which can affect either sounds or meanings. The evolution is in- 
evitable; there is no example of a single language that resists it. 
After a certain period of time, some obvious shifts can always be 

Mutability is so inescapable that it even holds true for artificial 
languages. Whoever creates a language controls it only so long as 
it is not in circulation ; from the moment when it fulfills its mission 
and becomes the property of everyone, control is lost. Take Es- 
peranto as an example ; if it succeeds, will it escape the inexorable 
law? Once launched, it is quite likely that Esperanto will enter 
upon a fully semiological life; it will be transmitted according to 
laws which have nothing in common with those of its logical cre- 
ation, and there will be no turning backwards. A man proposing 
a fixed language that posterity would have to accept for what it is 
would be hke a hen hatching a duck's egg: the language created 
by him would be borne along, willy-nilly, by the current that 
engulfs all languages. 

Signs are governed by a principle of general semiology: con- 
tinuity in time is coupled to change in time ; this is confirmed by 
orthographic systems, the speech of deaf-mutes, etc. 

But what supports the necessity for change? I might be re- 
proached for not having been as explicit on this point as on the 
principle of immutability. This is because I failed to distinguish 



between the different forces of change. We must consider their 
great variety in order to understand the extent to which they are 

The causes of continuity are a priori within the scope of the 
observer, but the causes of change in time are not. It is better not 
to attempt giving an exact account at this point, but to restrict 
discussion to the shifting of relationships in general. Time changes 
all things; there is no reason why language should escape this 
universal law. 

Let us review the main points of our discussion and relate them 
to the principles set up in the Introduction. 

1) Avoiding sterile word definitions, within the total phenome- 
non represented by speech we first singled out two parts : language 
and speaking. Language is speech less speaking. It is the whole set 
of linguistic habits which allow an individual to understand and 
to be understood. 

2) But this definition still leaves language outside its social con- 
text; it makes language something artificial since it includes only 
the individual part of reality; for the realization of language, a 
community of speakers [masse parlante] is necessary. Contrary to 
all appearances, language never exists apart from the social fact, 
for it is a semiological phenomenon. Its social nature is one of its 
inner characteristics. Its complete definition confronts us with two 
inseparable entities, as shown in this drawing: 

But under the conditions described language is not living — it 
has only potential life ; we have considered only the social, not the 
historical, fact. 



3) The linguistic sign is arbitrary; language, as defined, would 
therefore seem to be a system which, because it depends solely on a 
rational principle, is free and can be organized at will. Its social 
nature, considered independently, does not definitely rule out this 
viewpoint. Doubtless it is not on a purely logical basis that group 
psychology operates; one must consider everything that deflects 
reason in actual contacts between individuals. But the thing which 
keeps language from being a simple convention that can be modi- 
fied at the whim of interested parties is not its social nature ; it is 
rather the action of time combined with the social force. If time 
is left out, the linguistic facts are incomplete and no conclusion 
is possible. 

If we considered language in time, without the community of 
speakers — imagine an isolated individual Uving for several cen- 
turies — we probably would notice no change; time would not 
influence language. Conversely, if we considered the community 
of speakers without considering time, we would not see the effect 
of the social forces that influence language. To represent the actual 
facts, we must then add to our first drawing a sign to indicate 
passage of time: 


Language is no longer free, for time will allow the social forces 
at work on it to carry out their effects. This brings us back to the 
principle of continuity, which cancels freedom. But continuity 
necessarily implies change, varying degrees of shifts in the relation- 
ship between the signified and the signifier. 


Chapter III 

1. Inner Duality of All Sciences Concerned with Values 

Very few linguists suspect that the intervention of the factor of 
time creates difficulties peculiar to linguistics and opens to their 
science two completely divergent paths. 

Most other sciences are unaffected by this radical duality ; time 
produces no special effects in them. Astronomy has found that the 
stars undergo considerable changes but has not been obliged on 
this account to split itself into two disciplines. Geology is con- 
cerned with successions at almost every instant, but its study of 
strata does not thereby become a radically distinct discipline. Law 
has its descriptive science and its historical science; no one opposes 
one to the other. The political history of states is unfolded solely 
in time, but a historian depicting a particular period does not work 
apart from history. Conversely, the science of poHtical institutions 
is essentially descriptive, but if the need arises it can easily deal 
with a historical question without disturbing its unity. 

On the contrary, that duality is already forcing itself upon the 
economic sciences. Here, in contrast to the other sciences, political 
economy and economic history constitute two clearly separated 
disciplines within a single science; the works that have recently 
appeared on these subjects point up the distinction. Proceeding as 
they have, economists are — without being well aware of it — 
obeying an inner necessity. A similar necessity obliges us to divide 
linguistics into two parts, each with its own principle. Here as in 
political economy we are confronted with the notion of value; both 
sciences are concerned with a system for equating things of different 
orders — labor and wages in one and a signified and signifier in the 

Certainly all sciences would profit by indicating more precisely 
the co-ordinates along which their subject matter is aligned. Every- 



where distinctions should be made, according to the following 
illustration, between (1) the axis of simultaneities (AB), which 
stands for the relations of coexisting things and from which the 
intervention of time is excluded; and (2) the axis of successions 
(CD), on which only one thing can be considered at a time but 
upon which are located all the things on the first axis together 
with their changes. 




For a science concerned with values the distinction is a practical 
necessity and sometimes an absolute one. In these fields scholars 
cannot organize their research rigorously without considering both 
co-ordinates and making a distinction between the system of 
values per se and the same values as they relate to time. 

This distinction has to be heeded by the linguist above all others, 
for language is a system of pure values which are determined by 
nothing except the momentary arrangement of its terms. A value 
— so long as it is somehow rooted in things and in their natural 
relations, as happens with economics (the value of a plot of ground, 
for instance, is related to its productivity) — can to some extent be 
traced in time if we remember that it depends at each moment 
upon a system of coexisting values. Its link with things gives it, 
perforce, a natural basis, and the judgments that we base on such 
values are therefore never completely arbitrary; their variability 
is limited. But we have just seen that natural data have no place 
in linguistics. 


Again, the more complex and rigorously organized a system of 
values is, the more it is necessary, because of its very complexity, 
to study it according to both co-ordinates. No other system em- 
bodies this feature to the same extent as language. Nowhere else 
do we find such precise values at stake and such a great number 
and diversity of terms, all so rigidly interdependent. The multi- 
plicity of signs, which we have already used to explain the con- 
tinuity of language, makes it absolutely impossible to study 
simultaneously relations in time and relations within the system. 

The reasons for distinguishing two sciences of language are clear. 
How should the sciences be designated? Available terms do not all 
bring out the distinction with equal sharpness. "Linguistic history" 
and "historical linguistics" are too vague. Since political history 
includes the description of different periods as well as the narration 
of events, the student might think that he is studying a language 
according to the axis of time when he describes its successive states, 
but this would require a separate study of the phenomena that 
make language pass from one state to another. Evolution and 
evolutionary linguistics are more precise, and I shall use these ex- 
pressions often; in contrast, we can speak of the science of lan- 
guage-states [etats de langue] or static linguistics. 

But to indicate more clearly the opposition and crossing of two 
orders of phenomena that relate to the same object, I prefer to 
speak of synchronic and diachronic linguistics. Everything that 
relates to the static side of our science is synchronic; everything 
that has to do with evolution is diachronic. Similarly, synchrony 
and diachrony designate respectively a language-state and an 
evolutionary phase. 

2. Inner Duality and the History of Linguistics 

The first thing that strikes us when we study the facts of lan- 
guage is that their succession in time does not exist insofar as the 
speaker is concerned. He is confronted with a state. That is why 
the linguist who wishes to understand a state must discard all 
knowledge of everything that produced it and ignore diachrony. 
He can enter the mind of speakers only by completely suppressing 
the past. The intervention of history can only falsify his judgment. 
It would be absurd to attempt to sketch a panorama of the Alps 


by viewing them simultaneously from several peaks of the Jura; 
a panorama must be made from a single vantage point. The same 
applies to language; the linguist can neither describe it nor draw 
up standards of usage except by concentrating on one state. When 
he follows the evolution of the language, he resembles the moving 
observer who goes from one peak of the Jura to another in order 
to record the shifts in perspective. 

Ever since modern linguistics came into existence, it has been 
completely absorbed in diachrony. Comparative Indo-European 
philology uses the materials at hand to reconstruct hypothetically 
an older type of language; comparison is but a means of recon- 
structing the past. The method is the same in the narrower study of 
subgroups (Romance languages, Germanic languages, etc.); states 
intervene only irregularly and piecemeal. Such is the tendency 
introduced by Bopp. His conception of language is therefore hybrid 
and hesitating. 

Against this, what was the procedure of those who studied lan- 
guage before the beginning of modern linguistics, i.e. the "gram- 
marians" inspired by traditional methods? It is curious to note that 
here their viewpoint was absolutely above reproach. Their works 
clearly show that they tried to describe language-states. Their 
program was strictly synchronic. The Port Royal Grammar, for 
example, attempts to describe the state of French under Louis XIV 
and to determine its values. For this, the language of the Middle 
Ages is not needed; the horizontal axis is followed faithfully (see 
p. 80), without digression. The method was then correct, but this 
does not mean that its application was perfect. Traditional gram- 
mar neglects whole parts of language, such as word formation; it 
is normative and assumes the role of prescribing rules, not of 
recording facts ; it lacks overall perspective ; often it is unable even 
to separate the written from the spoken word, etc. 

Classical grammar has been criticized as unscientific; stiU, its 
basis is less open to criticism and its data are better defined than 
is true of the linguistics started by Bopp. The latter, occupying 
ill-defined ground, has no clear-cut objective. It straddles two 
areas because it is unable to make a sharp distinction between 
states and successions. 

Linguistics, having accorded too large a place to history, will 


turn back to the static viewpoint of traditional grammar but 
in a new spirit and with other procedures, and the historical 
method will have contributed to this rejuvenation; the historical 
method will in turn give a better understanding of language-states. 
The old grammar saw only the synchronic fact; linguistics has 
revealed a new class of phenomena; but that is not enough; one 
must sense the opposition between the two classes of facts to draw 
out all its consequences. 

3. Inner Duality Illustrated by Examples 

The opposition between the two viewpoints, the synchronic and 
the diachronic, is absolute and allows no compromise. A few facts 
will show what the difference is and why it is irreducible. 

Latin crispus 'crisp' provided French with the root crep- from 
which were formed the verbs crepir 'rough-cast' and decrepir 
'remove mortar.' Against this, at a certain moment the word 
decrepitus, of unknown origin, was borrowed from Latin and be- 
came decrepit 'decrepit.' Certainly today the community of 
speakers sets up a relation between un niur decrypt 'a wall from 
which mortar is falling' and U7i homme decrepit 'a decrepit man,' 
although historically the two words have nothing in common; 
people often speak of the faqade decrepite of a house. And this is 
static, for it concerns the relation between two coexisting forms of 
language. For its realization, the concurrence of certain evolu- 
tionary events was necessary. The pronunciation of crisp- had to 
become crep-, and at a particular moment a new word had to be 
borrowed from Latin. It is obvious that the diachronic facts are 
not related to the static facts which they produced. They belong 
to a different class. 

Here is a more telhng example. In Old High German the plural 
of gast 'guest' was first gasii, that of hant 'hand' was hanti, etc. 
Later the final -i produced an umlaut, i.e. it resulted in the chang- 
ing of the a of the preceding syllable to e: gasti —^ gesti; hanti -^ 
henti. Then the final -i lost its timbre: gesti — > geste, etc. The result 
is that today German has Gast: Gdste, Hand: Hdnde, and a whole 
group of words marked by the same difference between the singular 
and the plural. A very similar fact occurred in Anglo-Saxon: the 
earlier forms werefot: *fdti, top: *tdH, gos: *gdsi, etc. Through an 


initial phonetic change, umlaut, *fdti became *feti; through a sec- 
ond, the fall of final -i, feti became fet; after that, fot had as its 
plural fet; td]>, te\>; gos, ges, etc. (Modern English foot: feet, tooth: 
teeth, goose: geese.) 

Previously, when speakers used gast: gasti, fot: foti, the simple 
addition of an i marked the plural; Gast: Gaste and fot: fet show a 
new mechanism for indicating the plural. The mechanism is not 
the same in both instances; in Old English there is only opposition 
between vowels; in German there is in addition the presence or 
absence of final -e; but here this difference is unimportant. 

The relation between a singular and its plural, whatever the 
forms may be, can be expressed at each moment by a horizontal 

• < > • Period A 

• < > • Period B 

Whatever facts have brought about passage from one form to 
another should be placed along a vertical axis, giving the overall 
picture : 

Period A 

> • Period B 

Our illustration suggests several pertinent remarks: 

1) In no way do diachronic facts aim to signal a value by means 
of another sign ; that gasti became gesti, geste {Gaste) has nothing to 
do with the plural of substantives ; in tragit -^ tragi, the same um- 
laut occurs in verbal inflection, and so forth. A diachronic fact is an 
independent event; the particular synchronic consequences that 
may stem from it are wholly unrelated to it. 

2) Diachronic facts are not even directed toward changing the 
system. Speakers did not wish to pass from one system of relations 
to another; modification does not affect the arrangement but rather 
its elements. 

Here we again find the principle enunciated previously: never 
is the system modified directly. In itself it is unchangeable; only 
certain elements are altered without regard for the solidarity that 
binds them to the whole. It is as if one of the planets that revolve 


around the sun changed its dimensions and weight: this isolated 
event would entail general consequences and would throw the 
whole system out of equilibrium. The opposition of two terms is 
needed to express plurality: either fot: foti or fot: Jet; both pro- 
cedures are possible, but speakers passed from one to the other, so 
to speak, without having a hand in it. Neither was the whole re- 
placed nor did one system engender another; one element in the 
first system was changed, and this change was enough to give rise 
to another system. 

3) The foregoing observation points up the ever fortuitous nature 
of a state. In contrast to the false notion that we readily fashion 
for ourselves about it, language is not a mechanism created and 
arranged with a view to the concepts to be expressed. We see on 
the contrary that the state which resulted from the change was not 
destined to signal the meaning with which it was impregnated. In 
a fortuitous state {fot: fet), speakers took advantage of an exist- 
ing difference and made it signal the distinction between singu- 
lar and plural; fot: fet is no better for this purpose than fot: *foti. 
In each state the mind infiltrated a given substance and breathed 
life into it. This new perspective, inspired by historical linguistics, 
is unknown to traditional grammar, which could never acquire it 
by its own methods. Most philosophers of language are equally 
ignorant of it, and yet nothing is more important from the philo- 
sophical viewpoint. 

4) Are facts of the diachronic series of the same class, at least, 
as facts of the synchronic series? By no means, for we have seen 
that changes are wholly unintentional while the synchronic fact is 
always significant. It always calls forth two simultaneous terms. 
Not Gaste alone but the opposition Gast: Gdste expresses the plural. 
The diachronic fact is just the opposite: only one term is involved, 
and for the new one to appear (Gdste), the old one (gasti) must 
first give way to it. 

To try to unite such dissimilar facts in the same discipline would 
certainly be a fanciful undertaking. The diachronic perspective 
deals with phenomena that are unrelated to systems although they 
do condition them. 

Here are some other examples to strengthen and complement the 
conclusions drawn from the first ones. 


In French, the accent always falls on the last syllable unless this 
syllable contains a mute e (o). This is a synchronic fact, a relation 
between the whole set of French words and accent. What is its 
source? A previous state. Latin had a different and more compli- 
cated system of accentuation: the accent was on the penultimate 
syllable when the latter was long ; when short, the accent fell back 
on the antepenult (cf. amicus, dnima). The Latin law suggests 
relations that are in no way analogous to the French law. Doubtless 
the accent is the same in the sense that it remained in the same 
position ; in French words it always falls on the syllable that had it 
in Latin : amtcum — > ami, dnimum -^ dme. But the two formulas 
are different for the two moments because the forms of the words 
changed. We know that everything after the accent either dis- 
appeared or was reduced to mute e. As a result of the alteration of 
the word, the position of the accent with respect to the whole was 
no longer the same; subsequently speakers, conscious of the new 
relation, instinctively put the accent on the last syllable, even in 
borrowed words introduced in their written forms (facile, consul, 
ticket, burgrave, etc.). Speakers obviously did not try to change 
systems, to apply a new formula, since in words like amtcum — ^ ami 
the accent always remained on the same syllable ; but a diachronic 
fact w^as interposed: speakers changed the position of the accent 
without having a hand in it. A law of accentuation, like everything 
that pertains to the linguistic system, is an arrangement of terms, 
a fortuitous and involuntary result of evolution. 

Here is an even more striking example. In Old Slavic, slovo 'word' 
has in the instrumental singular slovem' b, in the nominative plural 
slova, in the genitive plural slov'b, etc.; in the declension each case 
has its own ending. But today the weak vowels b and 'b, Slavic 
representatives of Proto-Indo-European i and m, have disappeared. 
Czech, for example, has slovo, slovem, slova, slov; Ukewise zena 
'woman' : accusative singular zenu, nominative plural zeny, genitive 
plural zen. Here the genitive {slov, zen) has zero inflection. We see 
then that a material sign is not necessary for the expression of an 
idea; language is satisfied with the opposition between something 
and nothing. Czech speakers recognize zen as a genitive plural 
simply because it is neither zena nor zenu nor any of the other 
forms. It seems strange at first glance that such a particular notion 


as that of the genitive plural should have taken the zero sign, but 
this very fact proves that everything comes about through sheer 
accident. Language is a mechanism that continues to function in 
spite of the deteriorations to which it is subjected. 

All this confirms the principles previously stated. To summarize: 
Language is a system whose parts can and must all be considered 
in their synchronic solidarity. 

Since changes never affect the system as a whole but rather one 
or another of its elements, they can be studied only outside the 
system. Each alteration doubtless has its countereffect on the sys- 
tem, but the initial fact affected only one point; there is no inner 
bond between the initial fact and the effect that it may subse- 
quently produce on the whole system. The basic difference between 
successive terms and coexisting terms, between partial facts and 
facts that affect the system, precludes making both classes of fact 
the subject matter of a single science. 

4. The Difference between the Two Classes Illustrated by Comparisons 
To show both the autonomy and the interdependence of syn- 
chrony we can compare the first to the projection of an object on a 
plane surface. Any projection depends directly on the nature of the 
object projected, yet differs from it — the object itself is a thing 
apart. Otherwise there would not be a whole science of projections; 
considering the bodies themselves would suffice. In linguistics there 
is the same relationship between the historical facts and a lan- 
guage-state, which is hke a projection of the facts at a particular 
moment. We do not learn about synchronic states by studying 
bodies, i.e. diachronic events, any more than we learn about geo- 
metric projections by studying, even carefully, the different types 
of bodies. 

Similarly if the stem of a plant is cut transversely, a rather com- 
plicated design is formed by the cut surface ; the design is simply 
one perspective of the longitudinal fibers, and we would be able to 
see them on making a second cut perpendicular to the first. Here 
again one perspective depends on the other; the longitudinal cut 
shows the fibers that constitute the plant, and the transversal cut 
shows their arrangement on a particular plane; but the second is 
distinct from the first because it brings out certain relations be- 



tween the fibers— relations that we could never grasp by viewing 
the longitudinal plane. 

But of all comparisons that might be imagined, the most friutful 
is the one that might be drawn between the functioning of language 
and a game of chess. In both instances we are confronted with a 
system of values and their observable modifications. A game of 
chess is like an artificial realization of what language offers in a 
natural form. 

Let us examine the matter more carefully. 

First, a state of the set of chessmen corresponds closely to a state 
of language. The respective value of the pieces depends on their 
position on the chessboard just as each linguistic term derives its 
value from its opposition to all the other terms. 

In the second place, the system is always momentary; it varies 
from one position to the next. It is also true that values depend 
above all else on an unchangeable convention, the set of rules that 
exists before a game begins and persists after each move. Rules that 
are agreed upon once and for all exist in language too; they are the 
constant principles of semiology. 

Finally, to pass from one state of equilibrium to the next, or — 
according to our terminology — from one synchrony to the next, 
only one chesspiece has to be moved ; there is no general rummage. 
Here we have the counterpart of the diachronic phenomenon with 
all its peculiarities. In fact : 

(a) In each play only one chesspiece is moved ; in the same way 
in language, changes affect only isolated elements. 


(b) In spite of that, the move has a repercussion on the whole 
system; it is impossible for the player to foresee exactly the extent 
of the effect. Resulting changes of value will be, according to the 
circumstances, either nil, very serious, or of average importance. 
A certain move can revolutionize the whole game and even affect 
pieces that are not immediately involved. We have just seen that 
exactly the same holds for language. 

(c) In chess, each move is absolutely distinct from the preceding 
and the subsequent equilibrium. The change effected belongs to 
neither state: only states matter. 

In a game of chess any particular position has the unique char- 
acteristic of being freed from all antecedent positions; the route 
used in arriving there makes absolutely no difference; one who has 
followed the entire match has no advantage over the curious party 
who comes up at a critical moment to inspect the state of the game ; 
to describe this arrangement, it is perfectly useless to recall what 
had just happened ten seconds previously. All this is equally ap- 
pUcable to language and sharpens the radical distinction between 
diachrony and synchrony. Speaking operates only on a language- 
state, and the changes that intervene between states have no place 
in either state. 

At only one point is the comparison weak: the chessplayer 
intends to bring about a shift and thereby to exert an action on the 
system, whereas language premeditates nothing. The pieces of lan- 
guage are shifted — or rather modified— spontaneously and for- 
tuitously. The umlaut of Hdnde for hanti and Gdste for gasti (see 
p. 83) produced a new system for forming the plural but also gave 
rise to verbal forms hke tragi from tragit, etc. In order to make the 
game of chess seem at every point like the functioning of language, 
we would have to imagine an unconscious or unintelligent player. 
This sole difference, however, makes the comparison even more 
instructive by showing the absolute necessity of making a distinc- 
tion between the two classes of phenomena in linguistics. For if 
diachronic facts cannot be reduced to the synchronic system which 
they condition when the change is intentional, all the more will 
they resist when they set a blind force against the organization of 
a system of signs. 


5. The Two Linguistics Contrasted According to Their Methods and 


Everywhere the opposition between diachrony and synchrony 
stands out. 

For instance — and to begin with the most apparent fact — they 
are not of equal importance. Here it is evident that the synchronic 
viewpoint predominates, for it is the true and only reality to the 
community of speakers (see p. 81). The same is true of the lin- 
guist: if he takes the diachronic perspective, he no longer observes 
language but rather a series of events that modify it. People often 
affirm that nothing is more important than understanding the 
genesis of a particular state; this is true in a certain sense: the 
forces that have shaped the state illuminate its true nature, and 
knowing them protects us against certain illusions (see pp. 84 ff.) ; 
but this only goes to prove clearly that diachronic linguistics is not 
an end in itself. What is said of journalism applies to diachrony: 
it leads everywhere if one departs from it. 

The methods of diachrony and synchrony also differ, and in two 

(a) Synchrony has only one perspective, the speakers', and its 
whole method consists of gathering evidence from speakers; to 
know to just what extent a thing is a reality, it is necessary and 
sufficient to determine to what extent it exists in the minds of 
speakers. Diachronic linguistics, on the contrary, must distinguish 
two perspectives. One of these, the prospective, follows the course 
of time ; the other, the retrospective, goes back in time ; the result is 
a duphcation in methodology with which we shall deal in Part Five. 

(b) A second difference results from delimiting the fields em- 
braced by each of the two disciplines. Synchronic study has as its 
object, not everything that is simultaneous, but only the totahty 
of facts corresponding to each language; separation will go as far 
as dialects and subdialects when necessary. The term synchronic 
is really not precise enough; it should be replaced by another — 
rather long to be sure — idiostjnchronic. Against this, diachronic 
linguistics not only does not need but even rejects such special- 
ization; the terms that it studies do not necessarily belong to the 
same language (compare Proto-Indo-European *esti, Greek esti, 


German ist, and French est). The succession of diachronic events 
and their multiplication in space are precisely what creates the 
diversity of idioms. To justify the associating of two forms, it is 
enough to show that they are connected by a historical bond, 
however indirect it may be. 

The foregoing oppositions are neither the most striking nor the 
most profound. One consequence of the radical antimony between 
the evolutionary and the static fact is that all notions associated 
with one or the other are to the same extent mutually irreducible. 
Any notion will point up this truth. The synchronic and diachronic 
"phenomenon," for example, have nothing in common (see p. 85). 
One is a relation between simultaneous elements, the other the 
substitution of one element for another in time, an event. 

We shall also see (p. 107) that diachronic and S3nichronic identi- 
ties are two very different things ; historically the French negation 
pas is identical to the substantive pas 'step,' whereas the two forms 
are distinct in modern French. These observations would suffice to 
show the necessity of not confusing the two viewpoints, but no- 
where is this necessity more apparent than in the distinction we 
are about to make. 

6. Synchronic and Diachronic Law 

It is a popular practice to speak of laws in linguistics. But are 
the facts of language actually governed by laws? If so, what are 
they like? Since language is a social institution, one might assume 
a priori that it is governed by prescriptions analogous to those that 
control communities. Now every social law has two basic charac- 
teristics: it is imperative and it is general; it comes in by force and 
it covers all cases — within certain limits of time and place, of 

Do the laws of language fit this definition? The first step in 
answering the question — in line with what has just been said — is 
to separate once more the synchronic and diachronic areas. The 
two problems must not be confused; speaking of linguistic law in 
general is like trying to pin down a ghost. 

Here are some examples, taken from Greek, in which the two 
classes are intentionally jumbled: 


1. Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirates became voiceless: 
*dhumos — > thumos 'breath of life,' *hhero —^ phero 'I bear/ etc. 

2. The accent never falls farther back than the antepenult. 

3. All words end in a vowel or in s, n, or r, to the exclusion of all 
other consonants. 

4. Pre vocalic initial s became h (sign of aspiration) : *septm 
(Latin septem) -^ heptd. 

5. Final m changed to n: *jugom — * zugon (cf. Latin jugum).^ 

6. Final occlusives fell: *gunaik -^ gunai, *epherst —^ ephere, 
*epheront -^ epheron. 

Law 1 is diachronic : dh became th, etc. Law 2 expresses a relation 
between the word-unit and accent, a sort of contract between two 
coexisting terms ; it is a synchronic law. The same is true of Law 3 
since it concerns the word-unit and its ending. Laws 4, 5, and 6 are 
diachronic: s became h; -n replaced -m; -t, -k, etc. disappeared 
without leaving a trace. 

We should also notice that Law 3 is the result of 5 and 6; two 
diachronic facts created a synchronic fact. 

After we separate the two classes of laws, we see that Laws 2 and 
3 are basically different from Laws 1, 4, 5, and 6. 

The synchronic law is general but not imperative. Doubtless it 
is imposed on individuals by the weight of collective usage (see 
p. 73), but here I do not have in mind an obhgation on the part 
of speakers. I mean that in language no force guarantees the main- 
tenance of a regularity when established on some point. Being a 
simple expression of an existing arrangement, the sjmchronic law 
reports a state of affairs ; it is like a law that states that trees in a 
certain orchard are arranged in the shape of a quincunx. And the 
arrangement that the law defines is precarious precisely because 
it is not imperative. Nothing is more regular than the synchronic 
law that governs Latin accentuation (a law comparable in every 
way to Law 2 above); but the accentual rule did not resist the 

^ According to Meillet (Mem. de la Soc. de Ldng., IX, pp. 365 ff.) and 
Gauthiot {La fin du mot indo-europeen, pp. 158 ff.), final -m did not exist in 
Proto-Indo-European, which used only -n; if this theory is accepted, Law 5 
can be stated in this way: Greek preserved every final -n; its demonstrative 
value is not diminished since the phonetic phenomenon that results in the 
preservation of a former state is the same in nature as the one that manifests 
a change (see p. 145). [Ed.] 


forces of alteration and gave way to a new law, the one of French 
(see abo"ve p. 86). In short, if one speaks of law in synchrony, 
it is in the sense of an arrangement, a principle of regularity. 

Diachrony, on the contrary, supposes a dynamic force through 
which an effect is produced, a thing executed. But this imperative- 
ness is not sufficient to warrant applying the concept of law to 
evolutionary facts; we can speak of law only when a set of facts 
obeys the same rule, and in spite of certain appearances to the 
contrary, diachronic events are always accidental and particular. 

The accidental and particular character of semantic facts is im- 
mediately apparent. That French poutre 'mare' has acquired the 
meaning 'piece of wood, rafter' is due to particular causes and does 
not depend on other changes that might have occurred at the same 
time. It is only one accident among all those registered in the 
history of the language. 

As for syntactical and morphological transformations, the issue 
is not so clear from the outset. At a certain time almost all old 
subject-case forms disappeared in French. Here a set of facts ap- 
parently obeys the same law. But such is not the case, for all the 
facts are but multiple manifestations of one and the same isolated 
fact. The particular notion of subject was affected, and its dis- 
appearance naturally caused a whole series of forms to vanish. For 
one who sees only the external features of language, the unique 
phenomenon is drowned in the multitude of its manifestations. 
Basically, however, there is but one phenomenon, and this histori- 
cal event is just as isolated in its own order as the semantic change 
undergone by poutre. It takes on the appearance of a "law" only 
because it is realized within a system. The rigid arrangement of the 
system creates the illusion that the diachronic fact obeys the same 
rules as the synchronic fact. 

Finally, as regards phonetic changes, exactly the same is true. 
Yet the popular practice is to speak of phonetic laws. Indeed, it is 
said that at a given time and in a given area all words having 
the same phonic features are affected by the same change; for 
example. Law 1 on page 92 {*dhumos —^ Greek thumos) affects all 
Greek words containing a voiced aspirate (cf . *nebhos — » nephos, 
*medhu — ^ methu, *anghd -^ dnkho, etc.) ; Law 4 {*septm -^ heptd) 
applies to *serpd -^ herpo, *sus —*■ hUs, and to all words that begin 


with s. This regularity, which has at times been disputed, is ap- 
parently firmly established; obvious exceptions do not lessen the 
inevitability of such changes, for they can be explained either by 
more special phonetic laws (see the example of trikhes: thriksi, 
p. 97) or by the interference of facts of another class (analogy, etc.). 
Nothing seems to fit better the definition given above for the 
word law. And yet, regardless of the number of instances where a 
phonetic law holds, all facts embraced by it are but manifestations 
of a single particular fact. 

The real issue is to find out whether phonetic changes affect 
v;ords or only sounds, and there is no doubt about the answer: in 
nephos, methu, ankho, etc. a certain phoneme — a voiced Proto- 
Indo-European aspirate — became voiceless, Proto-Greek initial s 
became h, etc.; each fact is isolated, independent of the other 
events of the same class, independent also of the words in which 
the change took place.® The phonic substance of all the words was 
of course modified, but this should not deceive us as to the real 
nature of the phenomenon. 

What supports the statement that words themselves are not 

directly involved in phonetic transformations? The very simple 

observation that these transformations are basically alien to words 

and cannot touch their essence. The word-unit is not constituted 

solely by the totahty of its phonemes but by characteristics 

other than its material quality. Suppose that one string of a piano 

is out of tune: a discordant note will be heard each time the one 

who is playing a melody strikes the corresponding key. But where 

is the discord? In the melody? Certainly not; the melody has not 

been affected; only the piano has been impaired. Exactly the same 

is true in phonetics. Our system of phonemes is the instrument we 

play in order to articulate the words of language; if one of its 

elements is modified, diverse consequences may ensue, but the 

modification itself is not concerned with the words which are, in 

a manner of speaking, the melodies of our repertory. 

^ Of course the examples cited above are purely schematic : linguistics is 
right in trying currently to relate to the same initial principle the largest 
possible series of phonetic changes; for instance, Meillet explains all the 
transformations of Greek occlusives by progressive weakening of their articu- 
lation (see Mem. de la Soc. de Ling., IX, pp. 163 ff.). Naturally the conclusions 
on the nature of phonetic changes are in the last analysis apphcable to these 
general facts, wherever they exist. [Ed.] 


Diachronic facts are then particular; a shift in a system is 
brought about by events which not only are outside the system 
(see p. 84), but are isolated and form no system among them- 

To summarize: synchronic facts, no matter what they are, 
evidence a certain regularity but are in no way imperative; dia- 
chronic facts, on the contrary, force themselves upon language 
but are in no way general. 

In a word — and this is the point I have been trying to make — 
neither of the two classes of facts is governed by laws in the sense 
defined above, and if one still wishes to speak of linguistic laws, the 
word will embrace completely different meanings, depending on 
whether it designates facts of one class or the other. 

7. 7s There a Panchronic Viewpoint? 

Up to this point the term law has been used in the legal sense. 
But cannot the term also be used in language as in the physical and 
natural sciences, i.e. in the sense of relations that are everywhere 
and forever verifiable? In a word, can not language be studied 
from a panchronic viewpoint? 

Doubtless. Since phonetic changes have always occurred and 
are still occurring, this general phenomenon is a permanent char- 
acteristic of speech; it is therefore one of the laws of speech. In 
linguistics as in chess (see pp. 88 ff.) there are rules that outlive 
all events. But they are general principles existing independently 
of concrete facts. When we speak of particular, tangible facts, 
there is no panchronic viewpoint. Each phonetic change, regardless 
of its actual spread, is Hmited to a definite time and territory; no 
change occurs at all times and in all places; change exists only 
diachronically. These general principles are precisely what serve 
as a criterion for determining what belongs to language and what 
does not. A concrete fact that lends itself to panchronic explanation 
cannot belong to language. Take the French word chose 'thing': 
from the diachronic viewpoint it stands in opposition to the Latin 
word from which it derives, causa; from the synchronic viewpoint 
it stands in opposition to every word that might be associated with 
it in Modern French. Only the sounds of the word considered in- 
dependently {§oz) are susceptible of panchronic observation, but 


they have no linguistic value. Even from the panchronic viewpoint 
§gz, considered in a chain like iin §oz odmirahld 'an admirable thing/ 
is not a unit but a shapeless mass; indeed, why ^oz rather than oza 
or nsof It is not a value, for it has no meaning. From the pan- 
chronic viewpoint the particular facts of language are never 

8. Consequences of the Confusing of Synchrony and Diachrony 
Two instances will be cited : 

(a) Synchronic truth seems to be the denial of diachronic truth, 
and one who has a superficial view of things imagines that a choice 
must be made; this is really unnecessary; one truth does not ex- 
clude the other. That French deyit 'spite' originally meant con- 
tempt does not prevent the word from having a completely 
different meaning now; etymology and synchronic value are dis- 
tinct. Similarly, traditional grammar teaches that the present 
participle is variable and shows agreement in the same manner as 
an adjective in certain cases in Modern French (cf. une eau 
courante 'running water') but is invariable in others (cf. une per- 
sonne courant dans la rue 'a person running in the street'). But 
historical grammar shows that it is not a question of one and the 
same form : the first is the continuation of the variable Latin par- 
ticiple (currentum) while the second comes from the invariable 
ablative form of the gerund {currendo)? Does synchronic truth 
contradict diachronic truth, and must one condemn traditional 
granmiar in the name of historical grammar? No, for that would be 
seeing only half of the facts; one must not think that the historical 
fact alone matters and is sufficient to constitute language. Doubt- 
less from the viewpoint of its origin the participle courant has two 
elements, but in the collective mind of the community of speakers, 
these are drawn together and fused into one. The synchronic truth 
is just as absolute and indisputable as the diachronic truth. 

(b) Synchronic truth is so similar to diachronic truth that people 

confuse the two or think it superfluous to separate them. For 

example, they try to explain the meaning of French pere 'father' 

^ This generally accepted theory has been recently but, we believe, un- 
successfully attacked by M. E. Larch {Das invariable Participium praesentis, 
Erlangen, 1913); there was then no reason for eliminating an example that 
would retain its didactic value. [Ed.] 


by saying that Latin pater meant the same thing. Another example : 
Latin short a became i in noninitial open syllables; beside /acio we 
have conficio, beside amicus, inimicus, etc. The law is often stated 
in this way: ''The a of facio becomes i in conficio because it is no 
longer in the first syllable." That is not true: never did the a 
"become" i in conficio. To re-establish the truth one must single out 
two periods and four terms. Speakers first said facio — confacio; 
then, confacio having been changed to conficio while facio remained 
unchanged, they said facio — conficio: 

facio < > confacio Period A 

facio < > conficio Period B 

If a "change" occurred, it is between confacio and conficio; but the 
rule, badly formulated, does not even mention confacio! Then be- 
side the diachronic change there is a second fact, absolutely distinct 
from the first and having to do with the purely synchronic op- 
position between facio and conficio. One is tempted to say that it 
is not a fact but a result. Nevertheless, it is a fact in its own class; 
indeed, all synchronic phenomena are like this. The true value of 
the opposition facio: conficio is not recognized for the very reason 
that the opposition is not very significant. But oppositions like 
Gast: Gdste and gebe: gibt, though also fortuitous results of phonetic 
evolution, are nonetheless basic grammatical phenomena of the 
synchronic class. The fact that both classes are in other respects 
closely linked, each conditioning the other, points to the conclusion 
that keeping them apart is not worthwhile ; in fact, linguistics has 
confused them for decades without realizing that such a method 
is worthless. 

The mistake shows up conspicuously in certain instances. To 
explain Greek phuktos, for example, it might seem sufficient to say 
that in Greek g or kh became k before voiceless consonants, and to 
cite by way of explanation such synchronic correspondences as 
phugein: phuktos, lekhos: lektron, etc. But in a case like trikhes: 
thriksi there is a complication, the "passing" of t to th. The forms 
can be explained only historically, by relative chronology. The 
Proto-Greek theme Hhrikh, followed by the ending -si, became 
thriksi, a very old development identical to the one that produced 


lektron from the root lekh-. Later every aspirate followed by an- 
other aspirate in the same word was changed into an occlusive, and 
*thrikhes became trikhes; naturally thriksi escaped this law. 

9. Conclusions 

Linguistics here comes to its second bifurcaton. We had first to 
choose between language and speaking (see pp. 17 ff.); here we are 
again at the intersection of two roads, one leading to diachrony 
and the other to synchrony. 

Once in possession of this double principle of classification, we 
can add that everything diachronic in language is diachronic only 
by virtue of speaking. It is in speaking that the germ of all change 
is found. Each change is launched by a certain number of indi- 
viduals before it is accepted for general use. Modern German uses 
ich war, wir waren, whereas until the sixteenth century the con- 
jugation was ich was, wir waren (cf. English I was, we were). How 
did the substitution of war for was come about? Some speakers, 
influenced by waren, created war through analogy; this was a fact 
of speaking; the new form, repeated many times and accepted by 
the community, became a fact of language. But not all innovations 
of speaking have the same success, and so long as they remain in- 
dividual, they may be ignored, for we are studying language ; they 
do not enter into our field of observation until the community of 
speakers has adopted them. 

An evolutionary fact is always preceded by a fact, or rather by 
a multitude of similar facts, in the sphere of speaking. This in no 
way invalidates but rather strengthens the distinction made above 
since in the history of any innovation there are always two distinct 
moments: (1) when it sprang up in individual usage; and (2) when 
it became a fact of language, outwardly identical but adopted by 
the community. 

The following table indicates the rational form that linguistic 
study should take : 

, , ^^„„- Diachrony 



One must recognize that the ideal, theoretical form of a science is 
not always the one imposed upon it by the exigencies of practice ; 
in Unguistics these exigencies are more imperious than anywhere 
else ; they account to some extent for the confusion that now pre- 
dominates in linguistic research. Even if the distinctions set up here 
were accepted once and for all, a precise orientation probably could 
not be imposed on investigations in the name of the stated ideal. 

In the synchronic study of Old French, for instance, the hnguist 
works with facts and principles that have nothing in common with 
those that he would find out by tracing the history of the same 
language from the thirteenth to the twentieth century; on the 
contrary, he works with facts and principles similar to those that 
would be revealed in the description of an existing Bantu language, 
Attic Greek of 400 b.c. or present-day French, for that matter. 
These diverse descriptions would be based on similar relations; if 
each idiom is a closed system, all idioms embody certain fixed 
principles that the linguist meets again and again in passing from 
one to another, for he is staying in the same class. Historical study 
is no different. Whether the linguist examines a definite period in 
the history of French (for example, from the thirteenth to the 
twentieth century) Javanese, or any other language whatsoever, 
everywhere he works with similar facts which he needs only com- 
pare in order to establish the general truths of the diachronic class. 
The ideal would be for each scholar to devote himself to one field 
of investigation or the other and deal with the largest possible 
number of facts in this class; but it is very difficult to command 
scientifically such different languages. Against this, each language 
in practice forms a unit of study, and we are induced by force of 
circumstances to consider it alternately from the historical and 
static viewpoints. Above all else, we must never forget that this 
unit is superficial in theory, whereas the diversity of idioms hides 
a profound unity. Whichever way we look in studying a language, 
we must put each fact in its own class and not confuse the two 

The two parts of linguistics respectively, as defined, will be the 
object of our study. 

Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and 


psychological relations that bind together coexisting terms and 
form a system in the collective mind of speakers. 

Diachronic linguistics, on the contrary, will study relations that 
bind together successive terms not perceived by the collective mind 
but substituted for each other without forming a system. 


Synchronic Linguistics 

Chapter I 

The aim of general synchronic linguistics is to set up the funda- 
mental principles of any idiosynchronic system, the constituents 
of any language-state. Many of the items already explained in Part 
One belong rather to synchrony ; for instance, the general properties 
of the sign are an integral part of synchrony although they were 
used to prove the necessity of separating the two linguistics. 

To synchrony belongs everything called "general grammar," 
for it is only through language-states that the different relations 
which are the province of grammar are established. In the following 
chapters we shall consider only the basic principles necessary for 
approaching the more special problems of static linguistics or 
explaining in detail a language-state. 

The study of static linguistics is generally much more difficult 
than the study of historical linguistics. Evolutionary facts are more 
concrete and striking ; their observable relations tie together succes- 
sive terms that are easily grasped ; it is easy, often even amusing, to 
follow a series of changes. But the linguistics that penetrates 
values and coexisting relations presents much greater difficulties. 

In practice a language-state is not a point but rather a certain 
span of time during which the sum of the modifications that have 
supervened is minimal. The span may cover ten years, a gener- 
ation, a century, or even more. It is possible for a language to 
change hardly at all over a long span and then to undergo radical 
transformations within a few years. Of two languages that exist 
side by side during a given period, one may evolve drastically and 
the other practically not at all; study would have to be diachronic 
in the former instance, synchronic in the latter. An absolute state 
is defined by the absence of changes, and since language changes 



somewhat in spite of everything, studying a language-state means 
in practice disregarding changes of little importance, just as 
mathematicians disregard infinitesimal quantities in certain cal- 
culations, such as logarithms. 

Political history makes a distinction between era, a point in time, 
and period, which embraces a certain duration. Still, the historian 
speaks of the Antoninian Era, the Era of the Crusades, etc. when 
he considers a set of characteristics which remained constant dur- 
ing those times. One might also say that static linguistics deals with 
eras. But state is preferable. The beginning and the end of an era 
are generally characterized by some rather brusque revolution that 
tends to modify the existing state of affairs. The word state avoids 
giving the impression that anything similar occurs in language. 
Besides, precisely because it is borrowed from history, the term era 
makes one think less of language itself than of the circumstances 
that surround it and condition it; in short, it suggests rather the 
the idea of what we called external linguistics (see p. 20) . 

Besides, delimitation in time is not the only difficulty that we 
encounter in defining a language-state: space presents the same 
problem. In short, a concept of a language-state can be only ap- 
proximate. In static linguistics, as in most sciences, no course of 
reasoning is possible without the usual simplification of data. 

Chapter II 

1 . Definition: Entity and Unit 
The signs that make up language are not abstractions but real 

objects (see p. 15); signs and their relations are what linguistics 

studies; they are the concrete entities of our science. 

Let us first recall two principles that dominate the whole issue : 
1) The linguistic entity exists only through the associating of the 

signifier with the signified (see p. 66 ff.). Whenever only one ele- 


ment is retained, the entity vanishes; instead of a concrete object 
we are faced with a mere abstraction. We constantly risk grasping 
only a part of the entity and thinking that we are embracing it in 
its totality; this would happen, for example, if we divided the 
spoken chain into syllables, for the syllable has no value except in 
phonology. A succession of sounds is linguistic only if it supports 
an idea. Considered independently, it is material for a physiologi- 
cal study, and nothing more than that. 

The same is true of the signified as soon as it is separated from 
its signifier. Considered independently, concepts like "house," 
"white," "see," etc. belong to psychology. They become linguistic 
entities only when associated with sound-images; in language, a 
concept is a quality of its phonic substance just as a particular 
slice of sound is a quality of the concept. 

The two-sided linguistic unit has often been compared with the 
human person, made up of the body and the soul. The comparison 
is hardly satisfactory. A better choice would be a chemical com- 
pound like water, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen; taken 
separately, neither element has any of the properties of water. 

2) The Hnguistic entity is not accurately defined until it is 
delimited, i.e. separated from everything that surrounds it on the 
phonic chain. These delimited entities or units stand in opposition 
to each other in the mechanism of language. 

One is at first tempted to hken linguistic signs to visual signs, 
which can exist in space without becoming confused, and to assume 
that separation of the significant elements can be accomplished in 
the same way, without recourse to any mental process. The word 
"form," which is often used to indicate them (cf. the expression 
"verbal form," "noun form") gives support to the mistake. But 
we know that the main characteristic of the sound-chain is that it 
is linear (see p. 70). Considered by itself, it is only a line, a con- 
tinuous ribbon along which the ear perceives no self-sufficient and 
clear-cut division; to divide the chain, we must call in meanings. 
When we hear an unfamiliar language, we are at a loss to say how 
the succession of sounds should be analyzed, for analysis is impos- 
sible if only the phonic side of the linguistic phenomenon is con- 
sidered. But when we know the meaning and function that must 



be attributed to each part of the chain, we see the parts detach 
themselves from each other and the shapeless ribbon break into 
segments. Yet there is nothing material in the analysis. 

To summarize: language does not offer itself as a set of pre- 
delimited signs that need only be studied according to their mean- 
ing and arrangement ; it is a confused mass, and only attentiveness 
and familiarization will reveal its particular elements. The unit has 
no special phonic character, and the only definition that we can 
give it is this: it is a slice of sound which to the exclusion of everything 
that precedes and follows it in the spoken chain is the signifier of a 
certain concept. 

2. Method of Delimitation 

One who knows a language singles out its units by a very simple 
method — in theory, at any rate. His method consists of using 
speaking as the source material of language and picturing it as two 
parallel chains, one of concepts {A) and the other of sound-images 

In an accurate delimitation, the division along the chain of 
sound-images (a, h, c) will correspond to the division along the 
chain of concepts (a', h', c') : 



Take French sizlapra. Can we cut the chain after I and make sizl 
a unit? No, we need only consider the concepts to see that the 
division is wrong. Neither is the syllabic division siz-la-pra to be 
taken for granted as having linguistic value. The only possible 
divisions are these: (1) si-z-la-pra (si je la prends 'if I take it') and 
(2) si-z-l-apra (si je Vapprends 'if I learn it'), and they are deter- 
mined by the meaning that is attached to the words. ^ 

To verify the result of the procedure and be assured that we are 
really deahng with a unit, we must be able in comparing a series of 

* Cf. the sounds [jurmam] in English: "your mine" or "you're mine." [Tr.] 


sentences in which the same unit occurs to separate the unit from 
the rest of the context and find in each instance that meaning jus- 
tifies the delimitation. Take the two French phrases lafprsdiiva 
(la, force du vent 'the force of the wind'), and abudfgrs (a bout de 
force 'exhausted'; literally: 'at the end of one's force'). In each 
phrase the same concept coincides with the same phonic sHce, fgrs; 
thus it is certainly a linguistic unit. But in ilmdfgrsaparle (il me 
force a parler 'he forces me to talk') fors has an entirely different 
meaning: it is therefore another unit. 

3. Practical Difficulties of Delimitation 

The method outlined above is very simple in theory, but is it 
easy to apply? We are tempted to think so if we start from the 
notion that the units to be isolated are words. For what is a sen- 
tence except a combination of words? And what can be grasped 
more readily than words? Going back to the example given above, 
we may say that the analysis of the spoken chain sizlaprd resulted 
in the delimiting of four units, and that the units are words : si-je-l- 
apprends. But we are immediately put on the defensive on noting 
that there has been much disagreement about the nature of the 
word, and a little reflection shows that the usual meaning of the 
term is incompatible with the notion of concrete unit. 

To be convinced, we need only think of French cheval 'horse' and 
its plural from chevaux. People readily say that they are two forms 
of the same word ; but considered as wholes, they are certainly two 
distinct things with respect to both meaning and sound. In 
mwa (mois, as in le mois de Septembre 'the month of September') 
and mwaz (mois, in un mois apres *a month later') there are also 
two forms of the same word, and there is no question of a concrete 
unit. The meaning is the same, but the slices of sound are dif- 
ferent. As soon as we try to liken concrete units to words, we 
face a dilemma: we must either ignore the relation — which is none- 
theless evident — that binds cheval and chevaux, the two sounds of 
mwa and mwaz, etc. and say that they are different words, or in- 
stead of concrete units be satisfied with the abstraction that links 
the different forms of the same word. The concrete unit must be 
sought, not in the word, but elsewhere. Besides, many words are 


complex units, and we can easily single out their subunits (suffixes, 
prefixes, radicals). Derivatives like pain-ful and delight-ful can be 
divided into distinct parts, each having an obvious meaning and 
function. Conversely, some units are larger than words: compounds 
(French porte-plume 'penholder'), locutions (s'il vous plait 'please'), 
inflected forms {il a ete 'he has been'), etc. But these units resist de- 
limitation as strongly as do words proper, making it extremely 
difficult to disentangle the interplay of units that are found in a 
sound-chain and to specify the concrete elements on which a 
language functions. 

Doubtless speakers are unaware of the practical difficulties of 
delimiting units. Anything that is of even the slightest significance 
seems like a concrete element to them and they never fail to single 
it out in discourse. But it is one thing to feel the quick, delicate 
interplay of units and quite another to account for them through 
methodical analysis. 

A rather widely held theory makes sentences the concrete units 
of language: we speak only in sentences and subsequently single 
out the words. But to what extent does the sentence belong to 
language (see p. 124)? If it belongs to speaking, the sentence can- 
not pass for the Unguistic unit. But let us suppose that this diffi- 
culty is set aside. If we picture to ourselves in their totality the 
sentences that could be uttered, their most striking characteristic is 
that in no way do they resemble each other. We are at first tempted 
to liken the immense diversity of sentences to the equal diversity of 
the individuals that make up a zoological species. But this is an 
illusion : the characteristics that animals of the same species have 
in common are much more significant than the differences that 
separate them. In sentences, on the contrary, diversity is domi- 
nant, and when we look for the link that bridges their diversity, 
again we find, without having looked for it, the word with its gram- 
matical characteristics and thus fall back into the same difficulties 
as before. 

4. Conclusion 

In most sciences the question of units never even arises : the units 
are delimited from the outset. In zoology, the animal immediately 
presents itself. Astronomy works with units that are separated in 


space, the stars. The chemist can study the nature and composition 
of potassium bichromate without doubting for an instant that this 
is a well-defined object. 

When a science has no concrete units that are immediately recog- 
nizable, it is because they are not necessary. In history, for ex- 
ample, is the unit the individual, the era, or the nation? We do not 
know. But what does it matter? We can study history without 
knowing the answ^er. 

But just as the game of chess is entirely in the combination of 
the different chesspieces, language is characterized as a system 
based entirely on the opposition of its concrete units. We can 
neither dispense with becoming acquainted with them nor take a 
single step without coming back to them; and still, delimiting them 
is such a dehcate problem that we may wonder at first whether 
they really exist. 

Language then has the strange, striking characteristic of not 
having entities that are perceptible at the outset and yet of not 
permitting us to doubt that they exist and that their functioning 
constitutes it. Doubtless we have here a trait that distinguishes 
language from all other semiological institutions. 

Chapter III 


The statement just made brings us squarely up against a problem 
that is all the more important because any basic notion in static 
linguistics depends directly on our conception of the unit and even 
blends w^ith it. This is what I should like successively to dem- 
onstrate with respect to the notions of synchronic identity, reality, 
and value. 

A. What is a synchronic identity f Here it is not a question of the 
identity that links the French negation pas 'not' to Latin passum, 
a diachronic identity that will be dealt with elsewhere (see p. 181), 
but rather of the equally interesting identity by virtue of which we 


state that two sentences like je ne sais jpas 'I don't know' and ne 
dttes yas cela ^don't say that' contain the same element. An idle 
question, one might say; there is identity because the same slice of 
sound carries the same meaning in the two sentences. But that 
explanation is unsatisfactory, for if the correspondence of slices of 
sound and concepts is proof of identity (see above, p. 105, la force 
du vent : a bout de force) , the reverse is not true. There can be 
identity without this correspondence. When Gentlemen! is repeated 
several times during a lecture, the listener has the feeling that the 
same expression is being used each time, and yet variations in 
utterance and intonation make for appreciable phonic differences 
in diverse contexts — differences just as appreciable as those that 
elsewhere separate different words (cf. French pomme 'apple' and 
paume 'palm,' goutte 'drop' and je goute 'I taste,' fuir 'flee,' and 
fouir 'stuff,' etc.);2 besides, the feeling of identity persists even 
though there is no absolute identity between one Gentlemen! and 
the next from a semantic viewpoint either. In the same vein, a 
word can express quite different ideas without compromising its 
identity (cf. French adopter une mode 'adopt a fashion' and adopter 
un enfant 'adopt a child,' la fleur du pommier 'the flower of the 
apple tree' and la, fleur de la noblesse 'the flower of nobility,' etc.). 
The Unguistic mechanism is geared to differences and identities, 
the former being only the counterpart of the latter. Everjrwhere 
then, the problem of identities appears; moreover, it blends par- 
tially with the problem of entities and units and is only a compH- 
cation — illuminating at some points — of the larger problem. This 
characteristic stands out if we draw some comparisons with facts 
taken from outside speech. For instance, we speak of the identity of 
two "8:25 p.m. Geneva-to-Paris" trains that leave at twenty-four 
hour intervals. We feel that it is the same train each day, yet every- 
thing — the locomotive, coaches, personnel — is probably different. 
Or if a street is demolished, then rebuilt, we say that it is the same 
street even though in a material sense, perhaps nothing of the old 
one remains. Why can a street be completely rebuilt and still be 
the same? Because it does not constitute a purely material entity ; 
it is based on certain conditions that are distinct from the materials 

^ Cf. English bought: boat, naught: note, far: for: four (for many speakers). 


that fit the conditions, e.g. its location with respect to other streets. 
Similarly, what makes the express is its hour of departure, its 
route, and in general every circumstance that sets it apart from 
other trains. Whenever the same conditions are fulfilled, the same 
entities are obtained. Still, the entities are not abstract since we 
cannot conceive of a street or train outside its material reahzation. 

Let us contrast the preceding examples with the completely 
different case of a suit which has been stolen from me and which I 
find in the window of a second-hand store. Here we have a material 
entity that consists solely of the inert substance — the cloth, its 
lining, its trimmings, etc. Another suit would not be mine regard- 
less of its similarity to it. But linguistic identity is not that of the 
garment; it is that of the train and the street. Each time I say the 
word Gentlemen! I renew its substance; each utterance is a new 
phonic act and a new psychological act. The bond between the two 
uses of the same word depends neither on material identity nor on 
sameness in meaning but on elements which must be sought after 
and which will point up the true nature of linguistic units. 

B. What is a sjmchronic reality? To what concrete or abstract 
elements of language can the name be applied? 

Take as an example the distinction between the parts of speech. 
What supports the classing of words as substantives, adjectives, 
etc.? Is it done in the name of a purely logical, extra-linguistic 
principle that is applied to grammar from without like the degrees 
of longitude and latitude on the globe? Or does it correspond to 
something that has its place in the system of language and is con- 
ditioned by it? In a word, is it a synchronic reality? The second 
supposition seems probable, but the first could also be defended. 
In the French sentence ces gants sont hon marche 'these gloves are 
cheap,' is hon marche an adjective? It is apparently an adjective 
from a logical viewpoint but not from the viewpoint of grammar, 
for hon marche fails to behave as an adjective (it is invariable, it 
never precedes its noun, etc.); in addition, it is composed of two 
words. Now the distinction between parts of speech is exactly what 
should serve to classify the words of language. How can a group of 
words be attributed to one of the "parts"? But to say that hon 
'good' is an adjective and marche 'market' a substantive explains 
nothing. We are then dealing with a defective or incomplete clas- 


sification ; the division of words into substantives, verbs, adjectives, 
etc. is not an undeniable linguistic reality.' 

Linguistics accordingly works continuously with concepts forged 
by grammarians without knowing whether or not the concepts 
actually correspond to the constituents of the system of language. 
But how can we find out? And if they are phantoms, what realities 
can we place in opposition to them? 

To be rid of illusions we must first be convinced that the con^ 
Crete entities of language are not directly accessible. If we try to^ 
grasp them, we come into contact with the true facts . -Starting 
Mi;om there, we can set up all the clasgifi^atioiis that linguistics 

nee^S'fui' uii anglilg all fheTaCts^'Tts disposaly(5n the ofheiTiand^"'^ 
^.tor base the classifications on anything except concrete entities — to 
[ say, for example, that the parts of speech are the constituents of 
\ language simply because they correspond to categories of logic — is 
\ to forget that there are no linguistic facts apart from the phonic 
Nmbstance cut into significant elements. 

X>. Finally, not every idea touched upon in this chapter differs 
basically from what we have elsewhere called values. A new com- 
parison with the set of chessmen will bring out this point (see 
pp. 88 ff.). Take a knight, for instance. By itself is it an element in 
the game? Certainly not, for by its material make-up — outside its 
square and the other conditions of the game — it means nothing to 
the player; it becomes a real, concrete element only when endowed 
with value and wedded to it. Suppose that the piece happens to be 
destroyed or lost during a game. Can it be replaced by an equiva- 
lent piece? Certainly. Not only another knight but even a figure 
shorn of any resemblance to a knight can be declared identical 
provided the same value is attributed to it. We see then that in 
semiological systems like language, where elements hold each other 
in equilibrium in accordance with fixed rules, the notion of identity 
blends with that of value and vice versa. 

In a word, that is why the notion of value envelopes the notions 
of unit, concrete entity, and reality. But if there is no fundamental 

* Form, function, and meaning combine to make the classing of the parts of 
speech even more difficult in English than in French. Cf. ten-foot: ten feet in 
a ten-foot pole: the pole is ten feet long. [Tr.] 


difference between these diverse notions, it follows that the prob- 
lem can be stated successively in several ways. Whether we try to 
define the unit, reality, concrete entity, or value, we always come 
back to the central question that dominates all of static linguistics. 

It would be interesting from a practical viewpoint to begin with 
units, to determine what they are and to account for their diversity 
by classifying them. It would be necessary to search for the reason 
for dividing language into words — for in spite of the difficulty of 
defining it, the word is a unit that strikes the mind, something 
central in the mechanism of language — but that is a subject which 
by itself would fill a volume. Next we would have to classify the 
subunits, then the larger units, etc. By determining in this way 
the elements that it manipulates, synchronic linguistics would 
completely fulfill its task, for it would relate all synchronic phe- 
nomena to their fundamental principle. It cannot be said that this 
basic problem has ever been faced squarely or that its scope and 
difficulty have been understood ; in the matter of language, people 
have always been satisfied with ill-defined units. 

Still, in spite of their capital importance, it is better to approach 
the problem of units through the study of value, for in my opinion 
value is of prime importance. 

Chapter IV 


1. Language as Organized Thought Coupled with Sound 

To prove that language is only a system of pure values, it is 
enough to consider the two elements involved in its functioning: 
ideas and sounds. 

Psychologically our thought — apart from its expression in words 
— is only a shapeless and indistinct mass. Philosophers and lin- 
guists have always agreed in recognizing that without the help of 
signs we would be unable to make a clear-cut, consistent distinction 



between two ideas. Without language, thought is a vague, un- 
charted nebula. There are no pre-existing ideas, and nothing is 
distinct before the appearance of language. 

Against the floating realm of thought, would sounds by them- 
selves yield predelimited entities? No more so than ideas. Phonic 
substance is neither more fixed nor more rigid than thought; it is 
not a mold into which thought must of necessity fit but a plastic 
substance divided in turn into distinct parts to furnish the signifiers 
needed by thought. The linguistic fact can therefore be pictured 
in its totality — i.e. language — as a series of contiguous subdivisions 
marked off on both the indefinite plane of jumbled ideas (A) and 
the equally vague plane of sounds (B). The following diagram 
gives a rough idea of it : 

The characteristic role of language with respect to thought is not 
to create a material phonic means for expressing ideas but to serve 
as a link between thought and sound, under conditions that 
of necessity bring about the reciprocal delimitations of units. 
Thought, chaotic by nature, has to become ordered in the process 
of its decomposition. Neither are thoughts given material form 
nor are sounds transformed into mental entities; the somewhat 
mysterious fact is rather that "thought-sound" implies division, 
and that language works out its units while taking shape between 
two shapeless masses. Visualize the air in contact with a sheet of 
water; if the atmospheric pressure changes, the surface of the 
water will be broken up into a series of divisions, waves; the waves 
resemble the union or coupUng of thought with phonic substance. 

Language might be called the domain of articulations, using the 


word as it was defined earlier (see p. 10). Each linguistic term is a 
member, an articulus in which an idea is fixed in a sound and a 
sound becomes the sign of an idea. 

Language can also be compared with a sheet of paper: thought 
is the front and the sound the back; one cannot cut the front with- 
out cutting the back at the same time; likewise in language, one 
can neither divide sound from thought nor thought from sound; 
the division could be accomplished only abstractedly, and the 
result would be either pure psychology or pure phonology. 

Linguistics then works in the borderland where the elements of 
sound and thought combine ; their combination produces a form, not 
a substance. 

These views give a better understanding of what was said before 
(see pp. 67 ff.) about the arbitrariness of signs. Not only are the two 
domains that are linked by the linguistic fact shapeless and con- 
fused, but the choice of a given slice of sound to name a given idea 
is completely arbitrary. If this were not true, the notion of value 
would be compromised, for it would include an externally imposed 
element. But actually values remain entirely relative, and that is 
why the bond between the sound and the idea is radicallv 

arbitrary. "^ ~ ^ 

/The arbitrary nature of the sign explains in turn why the social 
'fact alone can create a Hnguistic system. The community is neces- 
sary if values that owe their existence solely to usage and general 
acceptance are to be set up ; by himself the individual is incapable 

In addition, the idea of value, as defined, shows that to consider 
a term as simply the union of a certain sound with a certain concept 
is grossly misleading. To define it in this way would isolate the 
term from its system; it would mean assuming that one can start 
from the terms and construct the system by adding them together 
when, on the contrary, it is from the interdependent whole that 
one must start and through analysis obtain its elements. 

To develop this thesis, we shall study value successively from 
the viewpoint of the signified or concept (Section 2), the signifier 
(Section 3), and the complete sign (Section 4). 

Being unable to seize the concrete entities or units of language 
directly, we shall work with words. While the word does not con- 



form exactly to the definition of the Hnguistic unit (see p. 105), 
it at least bears a rough resemblance to the unit and has the ad- 
vantage of being concrete; consequently, we shall use words as 
specimens equivalent to real terms in a synchronic system, and the 
principles that we evolve with respect to words will be vaUd for 
entities in general. 

2. Linguistic Value from a Conceptual Viewpoint 

When we speak of the value of a word, we generally think first of 
its property of standing for an idea, and this is in fact one side of 
linguistic value. But if this is true, how does value differ from 
signification? Might the two words be synonyms? I think not, 
although it is easy to confuse them, since the confusion results not 
so much from their similarity as from the subtlety of the distinction 
that they mark. 

From a conceptual viewpoint, value is doubtless one element in 
signification, and it is difficult to see how signification can be de- 
pendent upon value and still be distinct from it. But we must clear 
up the issue or risk reducing language to a simple naming-process 
(see p. 65). 

Let us first take signification as it is generally understood and as 
it was pictured on page 67. As the arrows in the drawing show, it is 
only the counterpart of the sound-image. Everything that occurs 
concerns only the sound-image and the concept when we look upon 
the word as independent and self-contained. 

But here is the paradox : on the one hand the concept seems to be 
the counterpart of the sound-image, and on the other hand the sign 
itself is in turn the counterpart of the other signs of language. 

Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the 
value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence 
of the others, as in the diagram: 


How, then, can value be confused with signification, i.e. the coun- 
terpart of the sound-image? It seems impossible to liken the rela- 
tions represented here by horizontal arrows to those represented 
above (p. 114) by vertical arrows. Putting it another way — and 
again taking up the example of the sheet of paper that is cut in two 
(see p. 1 13) — it is clear that the observable relation between the dif- 
ferent pieces A, B, C, D, etc. is distinct from the relation between 
the front and back of the same piece as in A/A', B/B', etc. 

To resolve the issue, let us observe from the outset that even 
outside language all values are apparently governed by the same 
paradoxical principle. They are always composed: 

(1) of a dissimilar thing that can be exchanged for the thing of 
which the value is to be determined ; and 

(2) of similar things that can be compared with the thing of 
which the value is to be determined. 

Both factors are necessary for the existence of a value. To de- 
termine what a five-franc piece is worth one must therefore know : 
(1) that it can be exchanged for a fixed quantity of a different thing, 
e.g. bread; and (2) that it can be compared with a similar value of 
the same system, e.g. a one-franc piece, or with coins of another 
system (a dollar, etc.). In the same way a word can be exchanged 
for something dissimilar, an idea ; besides, it can be compared with 
something of the same nature, another word. Its value is therefore 
not fixed so long as one simply states that it can be "exchanged" 
for a given concept, i.e. that it has this or that signification: one 
must also compare it with similar values, with other words that 
stand in opposition to it. Its content is really fixed only by the 
concurrence of everything that exists outside it. Being part of a 
system, it is endowed not only with a signification but also and 
especially with a value, and this is something quite different. 

A few examples will show clearly that this is true. Modern 
French mouton can have the same signification as English sheep 
but not the same value, and this for several reasons, particularly 
because in speaking of a piece of meat ready to be served on the 


table, English uses mutton and not sheep. The difference in value 
between sheep and mouton is due to the fact that sheep has beside 
it a second term while the French word does not. 

Within the same language, all words used to express related 
ideas limit each other reciprocally; synonyms like French redouter 
'dread,' craindre 'fear,' and avoir peur 'be afraid' have value only 
through their opposition: if redouter did not exist, all its content 
would go to its competitors. Conversely, some words are enriched 
through contact with others: e.g. the new element introduced in 
decrepit (un vieillard decripit, see p. 83) results from the co- 
existence of decrepi (un mur decrepi). The value of just any term 
is accordingly determined by its environment; it is impossible to 
fix even the value of the word signifying "sun" without first con- 
sidering its surroundings: in some languages it is not possible to 
say "sit in the swn." 

Everything said about words apphes to any term of language, 
e.g. to grammatical entities. The value of a French plural does not 
coincide with that of a Sanskrit plural even though their sig- 
nification is usually identical ; Sanskrit has three numbers instead 
of two {my eyes, my ears, my arms, my legs, etc. are dual) ;* it would 
be wrong to attribute the same value to the plural in Sanskrit and 
in French; its value clearly depends on what is outside and around 

If words stood for pre-existing concepts, they would all have 
exact equivalents in meaning from one language to the next; but 
this is not true. French uses louer (une maison) 'let (a house)' in- 
differently to mean both "pay for" and "receive pajrment for," 
whereas German uses two words, mieten and vermieten; there is 
obviously no exact correspondence of values. The German verbs 
schdtzen and urteilen share a number of significations, but that 
correspondence does not hold at several points. 

Inflection offers some particularly striking examples. Dis- 
tinctions of time, which are so familiar to us, are unknown in cer- 
tain languages. Hebrew does not recognize even the fundamental 

* The use of the comparative form for two and the superlative for more than 
two in EngUsh (e.g. viay the better hoxer win: the best boxer in the world) 
is probably a remnant of the old distinction between the dual and the plural 
number. [Tr.] 



distinctions between the past, present, and future. Proto-Germanic 
has no special form for the future; to say that the future is ex- 
pressed by the present is wrong, for the value of the present is not 
the same in Germanic as in languages that have a future along with 
the present. The Slavic languages regularly single out two aspects 
of the verb : the perfective represents action as a point, complete in 
its totality; the imperfective represents it as taking place, and on 
the line of time. The categories are difficult for a Frenchman to 
understand, for they are unknown in French; if they were pre- 
determined, this would not be true. Instead of pre-existing ideas 
then, we find in all the foregoing examples values emanating froijci 
the system. When they are said to correspond to concepts, it is I 
understood that the concepts are purely differential and defined! 
not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with 
the other terms of the system. Their most precise characteristic Uj 
in being what the others are not. 

Now the real interpretation of the diagram of the signal becomes 
apparent. Thus 

means that in French the concept "to judge" is-iinketd to the soundU--^ 
imagQ..Juger; in short, it symbolizes signiEGation. But it is quite 

•''ciear that ffiitiaiiy-^'e^oncept is nothing, that is only a value 
determined by its relations with other similar values, and that 

'^without them the signification would not exist.- If I state simply- 
that a word signifies somethiirg wh^SrrTTiave in mind the associ- 
ating of a sound-image with a concept, I am making a statement 
that may suggest what actually happens, but by no means am I 
expressing the linguistic fact in its essence and fullness. 

3. Linguistic Value from a Material Viewpoint 

The conceptual side of value is made up solely of relations and 
differences with respect to the other terms of language, and the 


same can be said of its material side. The important thing in the 
word is not the sound alone but the phonic differences that make 
it possible to distinguish this word from all others, for differences 
carry signification. 

This may seem surprising, but how indeed could the reverse be 
possible? Since one vocal image is no better suited than the next 
for what it is commissioned to express, it is evident, even a priori, 
that a segment of language can never in the final analysis be based 
on anything except its noncoincidence with the rest. Arbitrary and 
differential are two correlative qualities. 

The alteration of linguistic signs clearly illustrates this. It is 
precisely because the terms a and 6 as such are radically incapable 
of reaching the level of consciousness — one is always conscious of 
only the a/b difference — that each term is free to change accord- 
ing to laws that are unrelated to its signifying function. No positive 
sign characterizes the genitive plural in Czech zen (see p. 86); 
still the two forms Sena: zen function as well as the earlier forms 
zena: zenb; zen has value only because it is different. 

Here is another example that shows even more clearly the sys- 
tematic role of phonic differences: in Greek, ephen is an imperfect 
and esten an aorist although both words are formed in the same 
way; the first belongs to the system of the present indicative of 
pheml '1 say,' whereas there is no present *stem.i; now it is precisely 
the relation pheml: ephen that corresponds to the relation between 
the present and the imperfect (cf. deiknumi: edeiknun, etc.). Signs 
function, then, not through their intrinsic value but through their 
relative position. 

In addition, it is impossible for sound alone, a material element, 
to belong to language. It is only a secondary thing, substance to be 
put to use. All our conventional values have the characteristic of 
not being confused with the tangible element which supports them. 
For instance, it is not the metal in a piece of money that fixes its 
value. A coin nominally worth five francs may contain less than 
half its worth of silver. Its value will vary according to the amount 
stamped upon it and according to its use inside or outside a politi- 
cal boundary. This is even more true of the linguistic signifier, 
which is not phonic but incorporeal — constituted not by its ma- 


terial substance but by the differences that separate its sound- 
image from all others. 

The foregoing principle is so basic that it applies to all the 
material elements of language, including phonemes. Every lan- 
guage forms its words on the basis of a system of sonorous ele- 
ments, each element being a clearly delimited unit and one of a 
fixed number of units. Phonemes are characterized not, as one 
might think, by their own positive quality but simply by the fact 
that they are distinct. Phonemes are above all else opposing, 
relative, and negative entities. 

Proof of this is the latitude that speakers have between points 
of convergence in the pronunciation of distinct sounds. In French, 
for instance, general use of a dorsal r does not prevent many speak- 
ers from using a tongue-tip trill; language is not in the least dis- 
turbed by it; language requires only that the sound be different 
and not, as one might imagine, that it have an invariable quality. 
I can even pronounce the French r like German ch in Bach, dock, 
-etc., but in German I could not use r instead of ch, for German 
gives recognition to both elements and must keep them apart. 
Similarly, in Russian there is no latitude for t in the direction of t' 
(palatalized t), for the result would be the confusing of two sounds 
differentiated by the language (cf. govorit' 'speak' and goverit 'he 
speaks'), but more freedom may be taken with respect to th (aspi- 
rated t) since this sound does not figure in the Russian system of 

Si'nce an identical state of affairs is observable in writing, an- 
other system of signs, we shall use writing to draw some com- 
parisons that will clarify the whole issue. In fact: 

1) The signs used in writing are arbitrary; there is no con- 
nection, for example, between the letter t and the sound that it 

2) The value of letters is purely negative and differential. The 
same person can write /, for instance, in different ways: 

^ -^ 



The only requirement is that the sign for t not be confused in his 
script with the signs used for I, d, etc. 

3) Values in writing function only through reciprocal opposition 
within a fixed system that consists of a set number of letters. This 
third characteristic, though not identical to the second, is closely 
related to it, for both depend on the first. Since the graphic sign is 
arbitrary, its form matters little or rather matters only within the 
limitations imposed by the system. 

4) The means by which the sign is produced is completely un- 
important, for it does not affect the system (this also follows from 
characteristic 1). Whether I make the letters in white or black, 
raised or engraved, with pen or chisel — all this is of no importance 
with respect to their signification. 

4. The Sign Considered in Its Totality 
r"^ Everything that has been said up to this poiut boils down-4;0 
\_JJbdsiin language there_are only differences. (Even more importan1;?> 
\ a difference generally implies positive terms between which the I 
1 difference is set up; but in language there are only differences \ 
I without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, I 
'language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the lin- \ 
guistic system, but only conceptual and phonic, differences that 
have issued from the system. The idea or phonic substance^hat a 
"§igS~t;Dntain5Js of less importance than the other signs that sur- 
round it. Proof of this is that the value of a term may be modified 
j' without either its meaning or its sound being affected, solely be- 
i cause a neighboring term has been modified (see p. 115). 

But the statement that everything in language is negative is 
true only if the signified and the signifier are considered separately ; 
when we consider the sign in its totality, we have something that 
is positive in its own class. A linguistic system is a series of differ- 
ences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas; but 
the pairing of a certain number of acoustical signs with as many 
cuts made from the mass of thought engenders a system of values ; 
and this system serves as the effective hnk between the phonic and 
psychological elements within each sign. Although both the sig- 
nified and the signifier are purely differential and negative when 
considered separately, their combination is a positive fact; it is 


even the sole type of facts that language has, for maintaining the 
parallelism between the two classes of differences is the distinctive 
function of the linguistic institution. 

Certain diachronic facts are typical in this respect. Take the 
countless instances where alteration of the signifier occasions a 
conceptual change and where it is obvious that the sum of the 
ideas distinguished corresponds in principle to the sum of the dis- 
tinctive signs. When two words are confused through phonetic 
alteration (e.g. French decrepit from decrepitus and decrepi from 
crispus), the ideas that they express will also tend to become con- 
fused if only they have something in common. Or a word may have 
different forms (cf. chaise 'chair' and chaire 'desk'). Any nascent 
difference will tend invariably to become significant but without 
always succeeding or being successful on the first trial. Conversely, 
any conceptual difference perceived by the mind seeks to find ex- 
pression through a distinct signifier, and two ideas that are no 
longer distinct in the mind tend to merge into the same signifier. 

When we compare signs — positive terms — with each other, we 
can no longer speak of difference; the expression would not be 
fitting, for it apphes only to the comparing of two sound-images, 
e.g. father and mother, or two ideas, e.g. the idea "father" and the 
idea "mother"; two signs, each having a signified and signifier, are 
not different but only distinct. Between them there is only oppo- 
sition. The entire mechanism of language, with which we shall be 
concerned later, is based on oppositions of this kind and on the 
phonic and conceptual differences that they imply. 

What is true of value is true also of the unit (see pp. 110 ff.). A 
unit is a segment of the spoken chain that corresponds to a certain 
concept; both are by nature purely differential. i 

Applied to units, the principle of differentiation can be stated in 
this way : the characteristics of the unit blend with the unit itself. In 
language, as in any semiological system, whatever distinguishes 
one sign from the others constitutes it. Difference makes character 
just as it makes value and the unit. 

Another rather paradoxical consequence of the same principle is 
this: in the last analysis what is commonly referred to as a "gram- 
matical fact" fits the definition of the unit, for it always expresses 
an opposition of terms; it differs only in that the opposition is 


particularly significant (e.g. the formation of German plurals of the 
type Nacht: Ndchte). Each term present in the grammatical fact 
(the singular without umlaut or final e in opposition to the plural 
with umlaut and -e) consists of the interplay of a number of oppo- 
sitions within the system. When isolated, neither Nacht nor Ndchte 
is anything: thus everything is opposition. Putting it another way, 
the Nacht: Ndchte relation can be expressed by an algebraic formula 
a/b in which a and h are not simple terms but result from a set of 
relations. Language, in a manner of speaking, is a type of algebra 
consisting solely of complex terms. Some of its oppositions are more 
significant than others; but units and grammatical facts are only 
different names for designating diverse aspects of the same general 
fact : the functioning of linguistic oppositions. This statement is so 
true that we might very well approach the problem of units by 
starting from grammatical facts. Taking an opposition like Nacht: 
Ndchte, we might ask what are the units involved in it. Are they 
only the two words, the whole series of similar words, a and d, or all 
singulars and plurals, etc.? 

Units and grammatical facts would not be confused if linguistic 
signs were made up of something besides differences. But language 
being what it is, we shall find nothing simple in it regardless of our 
approach; everywhere and always there is the same complex 
equilibrium of terms that mutually condition each other. Putting 
it another way, language is a form and not a substance (see p. 113). 
This truth could not be overstressed, for all the mistakes in our 
terminology, all our incorrect ways of naming things that pertain 
to language, stem from the involuntary supposition that the 
linguistic phenomenon must have substance. 

Chapter V 


1. Definitions 

In a language-state everything is based on relations. How do 
they function? 


Relations and differences between linguistic terms fall into two 
distinct groups, each of which generates a certain class of values. 
The opposition between the two classes gives a better understand- 
ing of the nature of each class. They correspond to two forms of 
our mental activity, both indispensable to the life of language. 

In discourse, on the one hand, words acquire relations based on 
the linear nature of language because they are chained together. 
This rules out the possibihty of pronouncing two elements simul- 
taneously (see p. 70). The elements are arranged in sequence on 
the chain of speaking. Combinations supported by linearity are 
syntagms.^ The syntagm is always composed of two or more con- 
secutive units (e.g. French re-lire 're-read,' contre tous 'against 
everyone,' la vie humaine 'human life,' Dieu est bon 'God is good,' 
s'il fait beau temps, nous sortirons 'if the weather is nice, we'll go 
out,' etc.). In the syntagm a term acquires its value only because 
it stands in opposition to everything that precedes or follows it, 
or to both. 

Outside discourse, on the other hand, words acquire relations of 
a different kind. Those that have something in common are asso- 
ciated in the memory, resulting in groups marked by diverse re- 
lations. For instance, the French word enseignement 'teaching' will 
unconsciously call to mind a host of other words (enseigner 'teach,' 
renseigner 'acquaint,' etc.; or armement 'armament,' changement 
'amendment,' etc.; or education 'education,' apprentissage 'ap- 
prenticeship,' etc.). All those words are related in some way. 

We see that the co-ordinations formed outside discourse differ 
strikingly from those formed inside discourse. Those formed out- 
side discourse are not supported by linearity. Their seat is in the 
brain; they are a part of the inner storehouse that makes up the 
language of each speaker. They are associative relations. 

The syntagmatic relation is in praesentia. It is based on two or 
more terms that occur in an effective series. Against this, the associ- 
ative relation unites terms in absentia in a potential mnemonic 

From the associative and syntagmatic viewpoint a linguistic 

^ It is scarcely necessary to point out that the study of syntagms is not to be 
confused with syntax. Syntax is only one part of the study of syntagms 
(see pp. 134 ff.). [Ed.] 


unit is like a fixed part of a building, e.g. a column. On the one 
hand, the column has a certain relation to the architrave that it 
supports; the arrangement of the two units in space suggests the 
syntagmatic relation. On the other hand, if the column is Doric, it 
suggests a mental comparison of this style with others (Ionic, 
Corinthian, etc.) although none of these elements is present in 
space: the relation is associative. 

Each of the two classes of co-ordination calls for some specific 

2. Syntagmatic Relations 

The examples on page 123 have already indicated that the notion 
of syntagm applies not only to words but to groups of words, to 
complex units of all lengths and types (compounds, derivatives, 
phrases, whole sentences). 

It is not enough to consider the relation that ties together the 
different parts of syntagms (e.g. French contre 'against' and tons 
'everyone' in contre tous, contre and maitre 'master' in contremattre 
'foreman') f one must also bear in mind the relation that links the 
whole to its parts (e.g. contre tous in opposition on the one hand to 
contre and on the other tous, or contremattre in opposition to contre 
and maitre). 

An objection might be raised at this point. The sentence is the 
ideal type of syntagm. But it belongs to speaking, not to language 
(see p. 14). Does it not follow that the syntagm belongs to speak- 
ing? I do not think so. Speaking is characterized by freedom 
of combinations; one must therefore ask whether or not all syn- 
tagms are equally free. 

It is obvious from the first that many expressions belong to lan- 
guage. These are the pat phrases in which any change is prohibited 
by usage, even if we can single out their meaningful elements (cf. 
a quoi bonf 'what's the use?' allons done! 'nonsense!'). The same is 
true, though to a lesser degree, of expressions like prendre la mouche 
'take offense easily,'^ forcer la main d quelgii^un 'force someone's 
hand,' rompre une lance 'break a lance,'* or even avoir mal (d la 

* Cf. English head and waiter in headwaiter. [Tr.] 

^ Literally 'take the fly.' Cf. English take the bull by the horns. [Tr.] 

« Cf. English bury the hatchet. [Tr.] 


tete, etc.) 'have (a headache, etc.),' a force de {soins, etc.) 'by dint of 
(care, etc.),' que vous en semblef 'how do you feel about it?' pas 
n'est besoin de . . . 'there's no need for . . .,' etc., which are charac- 
terized by peculiarities of signification or syntax. These idiomatic 
twists cannot be improvised; they are furnished by tradition. 
There are also words which, while lending themselves perfectly to 
analysis, are characterized by some morphological anomaly that is 
kept solely by dint of usage (cf . difficulte 'difficulty' beside facilite 
'facility,' etc., and mourrai '[I] shall die' beside dormirai '[I] shall 
sleep'). 9 

There are further proofs. To language rather than to speaking 
belong the syntagmatic types that are built upon regular forms. 
Indeed, since there is nothing abstract in language, the types exist 
only if language has registered a sufficient number of specimens. 
When a word like indecorable arises in speaking (see pp. 167 ff.), its 
appearance supposes a fixed type, and this type is in turn possible 
only through remembrance of a sufficient number of similar words 
belonging to language (impardonable 'unpardonable,' intolerable 
'intolerable,' infatigable 'indefatigable,' etc.). Exactly the same is 
true of sentences and groups of words built upon regular patterns. 
Combinations like la terre iourne 'the world turns,' que vous dit-ilf 
'what does he say to you?' etc. correspond to general types that are 
in turn supported in the language by concrete remembrances. 

But we must realize that in the syntagm there is no clear-cut 
boundary between the language fact, which is a sign of collective 
usage, and the fact that belongs to speaking and depends on indi- 
vidual freedom. In a great number of instances it is hard to class a 
combination of units because both forces have combined in produc- 
ing it, and they have combined in indeterminable proportions. 

3. Associative Relations 

Mental association creates other groups besides those based on 
the comparing of terms that have something in common ; through 
its grasp of the nature of the relations that bind the terms together, 
the mind creates as many associative series as there are diverse 
relations. For instance, in enseignement 'teaching,' enseigner 'teach,' 

' The anomaly of the double r in the future forms of certain verbs in French 
may be compared to irregular plurals like oxen in English. [Tr.] 


enseignons '(we) teach,' etc., one element, the radical, is common 
to every term; the same word may occur in a different series formed 
around another common element, the suffix (cf . enseignement, arme- 
ment, changement, etc.); or the association may spring from the 
analogy of the concepts signified {enseignement, instruction, ap- 
prentissage, education, etc.); or again, simply from the similarity 
of the sound-images (e.g. enseignement and justement 'precisely').^" 
Thus there is at times a double similarity of meaning and form, 
at times similarity only of form or of meaning. A word can always 
evoke everything that can be associated with it in one way or 

Whereas a syntagm immediately suggests an order of succession 
and a fixed number of elements, terms in an associative family 
occur neither in fixed numbers nor in a definite order. If we associ- 
ate painful, delightful, frightfid, etc. w^e are unable to predict the 
number of words that the memory will suggest or the order in 
which they will appear. A particular word is like the center of a 
constellation ; it is the point of convergence of an indefinite number 
of co-ordinated terms (see the illustration on page 127). 

But of the two characteristics of the associative series — in- 
determinate order and indefinite number — only the first can always 
be verified ; the second may fail to meet the test. This happens in 
the case of inflectional paradigms, which are typical of associative 
groupings. Latin dominus, dominl, domino, etc. is obviously an 
associative group formed around a common element, the noun 
theme domin-, but the series" 

[ enseig 


ment j 

enseigner / 

\ clement 

enseignons / 
©tc. apprentissage 

\ juste 






" The last case is rare and can be classed as abnormal, for the mind naturally 


is not indefinite as in the case of enseignement, changement, etc. ; the 
number of cases is definite. Against this, the words have no fixed 
order of succession, and it is by a purely arbitrary act that the 
grammarian groups them in one way rather than in another; in the 
mind of speakers the nominative case is by no means the first one 
in the declension, and the order in which terms are called depends 
on circumstances. 

Chapter VI 

1. Syntagmatic Solidarities 

The set of phonic and conceptual differences that constitutes 
language results from two types of comparisons; the relations are 
sometimes associative, sometimes syntagmatic. The groupings in 
both classes are for the most part fixed by language; this set of 
common relations constitutes language and governs its functioning. 

What is most striking in the organization of language are syntag- 
matic solidarities; almost all units of language depend on what 
surrounds them in the spoken chain or on their successive parts. 

This is shown by word formation. A unit like painful decomposes 

discards associations that becloud the intelligibility of discourse. But its 
existence is proved by a lower category of puns based on the ridiculous con- 
fusions that can result from pure and simple homonomy like the French 
statement: "Les musiciens produisent les sons ['sounds, bran'] et les grainetiers 
les vendent" 'musicians produce sons and seedsmen sell them.' [Cf. Shake- 
speare's "Not on thy sole, but on thy soul." (Tr.)] This is distinct from the case 
where an association, while fortuitous, is supported by a comparison of ideas 
(cf. French ergot 'spur': ergotcr 'wrangle'; German blau 'blue': durchblauen 
'thrash soundly'); the point is that one member of the pair has a new in- 
terpretation. Folk etymologies like these (see pp. 173 ff.) are of interest in the 
study of semantic evolution, but from the synchronic viewpoint they are in 
the same category as enseigner: enseignement. [Ed.] 

" Cf. Enghsh education and the corresponding associative series: educate, 
educates, etc.; internship, training, etc.; vocation, devotion, etc.; and lotion, 
fashion, etc. [Tr.] 


into two subunits (pain-ful), but these subunits are not two inde- 
pendent parts that are simply lumped together (pain + ful) . The 
unit is a product, a combination of two interdependent elements 
that acquire value only through their reciprocal action in a higher 
unit (pain X ful). The suffix is nonexistent when considered inde- 
pendently; what gives it a place in the language is a series of com- 
mon terms like delight-ful, fright-ful, etc. Nor is the radical inde- 
pendent. It exists only through combining with a suffix. In gos-Ung, 
the element gos- is nothing without its sufiix. The whole has value 
only through its parts, and the parts have value by virtue of their 
place in the whole. That is why the syntagmatic relation of the part 
to the whole is just as important as the relation of the parts to each 

This general principle holds true for every type of syntagm 
enumerated above (pp. 124 ff.), for larger units are always com- 
posed of more restricted units linked by their reciprocal solidarity. 

To be sure, language has independent units that have syntag- 
matic relations with neither their parts nor other units. Sentence 
equivalents like yes, no, thanks, etc. are good examples. But this 
exceptional fact does not compromise the general principle. As a 
rule we do not communicate through isolated signs but rather 
through groups of signs, through organized masses that are them- 
selves signs. In language everything boils down to differences but 
also to groupings. The mechanism of language, which consists of 
the interplay of successive terms, resembles the operation of a 
machine in which the parts have a reciprocating function even 
though they are arranged in a single dimension. 

2. Simultaneous Functioning of the Two Types of Groupings 

Between the sj^ntagmatic groupings, as defined, there is a bond 
of interdependence; they mutually condition each other. In fact, 
spatial co-ordinations help to create associative co-ordinations, 
which are in turn necessary for analysis of the parts of the syntagm. 
Take the French compound de-faire 'un-do.' ^^ We can picture it 
as a horizontal ribbon that corresponds to the spoken chain: 

12 Cf. English misplace. To the French series correspond English mistake, 
misspell, misrepresent, etc. and place, replace, displace, etc. [Tr.] 



But simultaneously and on another axis there exists in the sub- 
conscious one or more associative series comprising units that have 
an element in common with the syntagm : 












In the same way, if Latin quadrwplex is a syntagm, this is because it 
too is supported by a double associative series : 










To the extent that the other forms float around defaire or quadru- 
plex, these words can be decomposed into subunits. This is just an- 
other way of saying that they are syntagms. Defaire could not be 
analyzed, for instance, if the other forms containing de- or faire 
disappeared from the language. It would be but a simple unit, and 
its two parts could not be placed in opposition. 

Now the functioning of the dual system in discourse is clear. 


Our memory holds in reserve all the more or less complex types 
of syntagms, regardless of their class or length, and we bring in the 
associative groups to fix our choice when the time for using them 
arrives. When a Frenchman says marchons! '(let's) walk!' he 
thinks unconsciously of diverse groups of associations that con- 
verge on the syntagm marchons! The syntagm figures in the series 
marche! '(thou) walk!' marchez! '(you) walk!' and the opposition 
between marchons! and the other forms determines his choice; in 
addition, marchons! calls up the series montons! '(let's) go up!' 
mangeons '(let's) eat!' etc. and is selected from the series by the 
same process. In each series the speaker knows what he must vary 
in order to produce the differentiation that fits the desired unit. If 
he changes the idea to be expressed, he will need other oppositions 
to bring out another value; for instance, he may say marchez! or 
perhaps montons! 

It is not enough to say, looking at the matter positively, that the 
speaker chooses marchons! because it signifies what he wishes to 
express. In reality the idea evokes not a form but a whole latent 
system that makes possible the oppositions necessary for the for- 
mation of the sign. By itself the sign would have no signification. 
If there were no forms like marche! marchez! against marchons!, 
certain oppositions w^ould disappear, and the value of marchons! 
would be changed ipso facto. 

This principle applies to even the most complex types of syn- 
tagms and sentences. To frame the question que vous dit-il? 'what 
does he say to youf the speaker varies one element of a latent 
syntactical pattern, e.g. que te dit-il? 'what does he say to theef^ 
que nous dit-il? 'what does he say to usf etc., until his choice is 
fixed on the pronoun vous. In this process, which consists of elimi- 
nating mentally everything that does not help to bring out the 
desired differentiation at the desired point, associative groupings 
and sjmtagmatic patterns both play a role. 

Conversely, the process of fixation and choice governs the 
smallest units and even phonological elements wherever they are 
endowed with a value. I am thinking not only of cases like French 
pQtit 'small' (feminine form, written petite) in opposition to p9ti 
(masculine form, written petit) or Latin domini against domino, 
where the difference happens to be based on a simple phoneme, but 


also of the more subtle and characteristic fact that a phoneme by 
itself plays a role in the system of a language-state. For example, if 
m, p, t, etc. can never occur at the end of a word in Greek, this 
means that their presence or absence in a definite position counts 
in the structure of the word and in the structure of the sentence. 
In every such case the isolated sound, like every other unit, is 
chosen after a dual mental opposition. In the imaginary grouping 
anma, for instance, the sound m stands in syntagmatic opposition 
to its environing sounds and in associative opposition to all other 
sounds that may come to mind: 




3. Absolute and Relative Arbitrariness 

The mechanism of language can be presented from another 
especially important angle. 

The fundamental principle of the arbitrariness of the sign does 
not prevent our singling out in each language what is radically 
arbitrary, i.e. unmotivated, and what is only relatively arbitrary. 
Some signs are absolutely arbitrary; in others we note, not its com- 
plete absence, but the presence of degrees of arbitrariness : the sign 
may be relatively motivated. 

For instance, both vingt 'twenty' and dix-neuf 'nineteen' are un- 
motivated in French, but not in the same degree, for dix-neuf 
suggests its own terms and other terms associated with it (e.g. dix 
'ten,' neuf 'nine,' vingtr-neuf 'twenty-nine,' dix-huit 'eighteen,' 
soixante-dix 'seventy,' etc.). Taken separately, dix and neuf are in 
the same class as vingt, but dix-neuf is an example of relative mo- 
tivation. The same is true of poirier 'pear-tree,' which recalls the 
simple word poire 'pear' and, through its suffix, cerisier 'cherry- 
tree,' pommier 'apple-tree,' etc.^' For fr^ne 'ash,' ch^ne 'oak,' etc. 
there is nothing comparable. Again, compare berger 'shepherd,' 
which is completely unmotivated, and vacher 'cowherd,' which is 
relatively motivated.^* In the same way, the pairs gedle 'jail' and 

" Cf. English flaxen, which suggests flax, silken, woolen, etc. [Tr.] 

" Cf. English clerk, unmotivated, against /armer, relatively motivated. [Tr.] 


cachot 'dungeon,' hache *ax' and couperet 'chopper/ concierge 'por- 
ter' and portier 'doorman,' jadis 'of old' and autrefois 'formerly,' 
souvent 'often' and frequemment 'frequently,' aveugle 'blind' and 
boiteux 'limping,' sourd 'deaf and bossu 'hunchbacked,' second 
'second' and deuxieme 'second (of a series),' German Laub and 
French, feuillage 'foliage,' and French metier 'handicraft' and Ger- 
man Handwerk.^^ The English plural ships suggests through its 
formation the whole series flags, birds, books, etc., while men and 
sheep suggest nothing. In Greek doso 'I shall give' the notion of 
futurity is expressed by a sign that calls up the association luso, 
steso, tupso, etc.; eimi 'I shall go,' on the other hand, is completely 

This is not the place to search for the forces that condition 
motivation in each instance; but motivation varies, being always 
proportional to the ease of syntagmatic analysis and the obvious- 
ness of the meaning of the subunits present. Indeed, while some 
formative elements hke -ier in poir-ier against ceris-ier, pomm-ier, 
etc. are obvious, others are vague or meaningless. For instance, 
does the sufi&x -ot really correspond to a meaningful element in 
French cachot 'dungeon'? On comparing words like coutelas 'cutlas,' 
fatras 'pile,' platras 'rubbish,' canevas 'canvas,' etc., one has no 
more than the vague feeUng that -as is a formative element charac- 
teristic of substantives. At any rate, even in the most favorable 
cases motivation is never absolute. Not only are the elements of a 
motivated sign themselves unmotivated (cf. dix and neuf in dix- 
neuf), but the value of the whole term is never equal to the sum of 
the value of the parts. Teach + er is not equal to teach X er (see 
p. 128). 

Motivation is explained by the principles stated in Section 2. 
The notion of relative motivation impUes: (1) analysis of a given 
term, hence a syntagmatic relation ; and (2) the summoning of one 
or more other terms, hence an associative relation. It is the 
mechanism through which any term whatever lends itself to the 
expression of an idea, and is no more than that. Up to this point 
units have appeared as values, i.e. as elements of a system, and we 

1^ For examples not similar in English and French, compare completely 
unmotivated jail, slave, then and relatively motivated reformatory, servant, 
heretofore. [Tr.] 


have given special consideration to their opposition ; now we recog- 
nize the solidarities that bind them; they are associative and 
syntagmatic, and they are what limits arbitrariness. Dix-neuf is 
supported associatively by dix-huit, soixante-dix, etc. and syntag- 
matically by its elements dix and neuf (see p. 128). This dual 
relation gives it a part of its value. 

Everything that relates to language as a system must, I am con- 
vinced, be approached from this viewpoint, which has scarcely 
received the attention of linguists: the limiting of arbitrariness. 
This is the best possible basis for approaching the study of language 
as a system. In fact, the whole system of language is based on the 
irrational principle of the arbitrariness of the sign, which would 
lead to the worst sort of complication if applied without restriction. 
But the mind contrives to introduce a principle of order and regu- 
larity into certain parts of the mass of signs, and this is the role of 
relative motivation. If the mechanism of language were entirely 
rational, it could be studied independently. Since the mechanism 
of language is but a partial correction of a system that is by nature 
chaotic, however, we adopt the viewpoint imposed by the very 
nature of language and study it as it limits arbitrariness. 

There is no language in which nothing is motivated, and our 
definition makes it impossible to conceive of a language in which 
everything is motivated. Between the two extremes — a minimum 
of organization and a minimum of arbitrariness — we find all pos- 
sible varieties. Diverse languages always include elements of both 
types — radically arbitrary and relatively motivated — but in pro- 
portions that vary greatly, and this is an important characteristic 
that may help in classifying them. 

In a certain sense — one which must not be pushed too far but 
which brings out a particular form that the opposition may take — 
we might say that languages in which there is least motivation are 
more lexicological, and those in which it is greatest are more gram- 
matical. Not because "lexical" and ''arbitrary" on the one hand 
and "grammar" and "relative motivation" on the other, are always 
synonymous, but because they have a common principle. The two 
extremes are like two poles between which the whole system moves, 
two opposing currents which share the movement of language : the 
tendency to use the lexicological instrument (the unmotivated 


sign) and the preference given to the grammatical instrument 
(structural rules). 

We would see, for example, that motivation plays a much larger 
role in German than in English. But the ultra-lexicological type is 
Chinese while Proto-Indo-European and Sanskrit are specimens of 
the ultra^grammatical type. Within a given language, all evolution- 
ary movement may be characterized by continual passage from 
motivation to arbitrariness and from arbitrariness to motivation; 
this see-saw motion often results in a perceptible change in the 
proportions of the two classes of signs. Thus with respect to Latin, 
French is characterized, among other things, by a huge increase in 
arbitrariness. Latin inimicus recalls in- and amicus and is moti- 
vated by them; against this, ennemi 'enemy' is motivated by 
nothing — it has reverted 1 o absolute arbitrariness, which is really 
the prime characteristic cf the linguistic sign. We would notice 
this shift in hundreds of instances: cf. constdre {stare): couter 
'cost,' fahrica (faber): forge 'forge,' magister (magis): maltre 
'master,' herhicarius (herhix): herger 'shepherd,' etc. French owes 
its characteristic appearance to this fact. 

Chapter VII 

L Definitions: Traditional Divisions 

Static linguistics or the description of a language-state is gram- 
mar in the very precise, and moreover usual, sense that the word 
has in the expressions "grammar of the Stock Exchange," etc., 
where it is a question of a complex and systematic object governing 
the interplay of coexisting values. 

Grammar studies language as a system of means of expression. 
Grammatical means synchronic and significant, and since no sys- 
tem straddles several periods, there is no such thing as "historical 
grammar"; the discipline so labeled is really only diachronic 


My definition disagrees with the narrower one usually given. 
Morphology and syntax together are what is generally called gram- 
mar while lexicology, or the science of words, is excluded. 

But first, do these divisions fit the facts? Do they agree with the 
principles that have just been posited? 

Morphology deals with different classes of words (verbs, nouns, 
adjectives, pronouns, etc.) and with different inflectional forms 
(conjugation, declension, etc.). To separate this study from syntax, 
it is alleged that syntax has as its object the functions attached to 
linguistic units while morphology considers only their form. For 
instance, morphology says simply that the genitive of Greek phulax 
'guardian' is phulakos, and syntax explains the use of the two 

But the distinction is illusory. The series of forms of the sub- 
stantive phulax becomes an inflectional paradigm only through 
comparison of the functions attached to the different forms; 
reciprocally, the functions are morphological only if each function 
corresponds to a definite phonic sign. A declension is neither a Ust 
of forms nor a series of logical abstractions but a combination of 
the two (see pp. 102 £f.). Forms and functions are interdependent 
and it is difiicult, if not impossible, to separate them. Linguistically, 
morphology has no real, autonomous object. It cannot form a 
discipline distinct from syntax. 

Second, it is not logical to exclude lexicology from grammar. As 
they are registered in the dictionary, words do not seem at first 
glance to lend themselves to grammatical study, which is generally 
restricted to the relations between units. But we notice at once 
that innumerable relations may be expressed as eflEiciently by 
words as by grammar. For instance, Latin fid and facio stand in 
opposition to each other in the same way as dlcor and died, two 
grammatical forms of the same word. The distinction between the 
perfective and imperfective is expressed grammatically in Russian 
sprosit': sprdsivat' 'ask' and lexicologically in skazdt': govorit' 'say.' 
Prepositions are usually assigned to grammar, but the prepositional 
locution en consideration de 'in consideration of is basically lexi- 
cological since the word consideration retains its own meaning in 
the French phrase. If we compare Greek peitho: peithomai with 
French je persuade 'I persuade': foheis 'I obey,' we see that the 


opposition is expressed grammatically in the first instance and 
lexicologically in the second. A large number of relations that are 
expressed in certain languages by cases or prepositions are rendered 
in others by compounds, more like words proper (French royaume 
des deux 'kingdom of heaven' and German Himmelreich), or by 
derivatives (French moulin d, vent 'windmill' and Pohsh wiatr-ak) 
or finally, by simple words (French hois de chauffage 'firewood' and 
Russian drovd, French bois de construction 'timber' and Russian 
Us). The interchange of simple words and phrases within the same 
language also occurs very frequently (cf. French considerer 'con- 
sider' and prendre en consideration 'take into consideration,' se 
venger de 'avenge' and tirer vengeance de 'take revenge on'). 

Functionally, therefore, the lexical and the syntactical may 
blend. There is basically no distinction between any word that is 
not a simple, irreducible unit and a phrase, which is a syntactical 
fact. The arrangement of the subunits of the word obeys the same 
fundamental principles as the arrangement of groups of words in 

In short, although the traditional divisions of grammar may be 
useful in practice, they do not correspond to natural distinctions. 
To build a grammar, we must look for a different and a higher 

2. Rational Divisions 

Morphology, syntax, and lexicology interpenetrate because 
every synchronic fact is identical. No line of demarcation can be 
drawn in advance. Only the distinction established above between 
S3nitagmatic and associative relations can provide a classification 
that is not imposed from the outside. No other base will serve for 
the grammatical system. 

We should first gather together all that makes up a language- 
state and fit this into a theory of syntagms and a theory of associ- 
ations. Immediately certain parts of traditional grammar would 
seem to fall effortlessly into one category or the other. Inflection 
is evidently a typical kind of association of forms in the mind of 
speakers; and syntax (i.e. the theory of word groupings, according 
to the most common definition) goes back to the theory of syn- 
tagms, for the groupings always suppose at least two units dis- 


tributed in space. Not every syntagmatic fact is classed as syn- 
tactical, but every syntactical fact belongs to the syntagmatic 

To prove the necessity of the dual approach, almost any point 
of grammar will do. The notion of word, for instance, poses two 
distinct problems, depending on whether the word is studied from 
the associative or the syntagmatic viewpoint. In French, the 
adjective grand 'big' offers a duality of form from the syntagmatic 
viewpoint (grd gargon written grand gargon 'big boy' and grat dfa, 
written grand enfant 'big baby') and another duality from the 
associative viewpoint (masculine gra, written grand, and feminine 
grad, written grande). 

Each fact should in this way be fitted into its syntagmatic or 
associative class, and the whole subject matter of grammar should 
be arranged along its two natural co-ordinates; no other division 
will show what must be changed in the usual framework of syn- 
chronic linguistics. I cannot undertake that task here, for my aim 
is limited to stating only the most general principles. 

Chapter VIII 


One important subject, not yet touched upon, points up this very 
necessity of examining every grammatical question from the two 
viewpoints specified in Chapter VII : abstract entities in grammar. 
Let us consider them first associatively. 

To associate two forms is not only to feel that they have some- 
thing in common but also to single out the nature of the relations 
that govern associations. For instance, speakers are aware that the 
relation between enseigner and enseignement or juger and jugement 
is not the same as the relation between enseignement and jugement 
'judgment' (see p. 125). This is how the system of associations 
is tied to the system of grammar. We can say that the sum of the 
conscious and methodical classifications made by the grammarian 


who studies a language-state without bringing in history must 
coincide with the associations, conscious or not, that are set up in 
speaking. These associations fix word-famiUes, inflectional para- 
digms, and formative elements (radicals, suflSxes, inflectional end- 
ings, etc.) in our minds (see pp. 185 ff.). 

But does association single out only material elements? No, of 
course not. We have already seen that it brings together words 
that are related only through meaning (cf. enseignement, ap- 
prentissage, education, etc.). The same must apply in grammar. 
Take the three Latin genitive forms domin-i, reg-is, ros-drum. The 
sounds of the three endings offer no basis for association, yet the 
endings are connected by the feeling that they have a common 
value which prescribes an identical function. This suffices to create 
the association in the absence of any material support, and the 
notion of the genitive in this way takes its place in the language. 
Through a similar procedure, the inflectional endings -ws, -^, -o, 
etc. (in dominus, dominl, domino, etc.) are Unked together in the 
mind and are the basis for the more general notions of case and case 
endings. Associations of the same class, but larger still, combine 
all substantives, adjectives, etc. and fix the notion of parts of 

All these things exist in language, but as abstract entities; their 
study is difficult because we never know exactly whether or not the 
awareness of speakers goes as far as the analyses of the gram- 
marian. But the important thing is that abstract entities are always 
based, in the last analysis, on concrete entities. No grammatical 
abstraction is possible without a series of material elements as a 
basis, and in the end we must always come back to these elements. 

Now we turn to the syntagmatic viewpoint. The value of a 
cluster is often linked to the order of its elements. In analyzing a 
syntagm, the speaker does not restrict himself to singling out its 
parts; he observes a certain order of succession among them. The 
meaning of English pain-fid or Latin signi-fer depends on the 
respective positions of their subunits: we cannot say ful-pain or 
fer-signum. A value may have no relations with a concrete element 
(hke -ful or -fer) and result solely from the arrangement of the 
terms; for instance, the different significations of the two clusters 
in French je dois 'I must' and dois-je? 'must I?' are due only to 


word order. One language sometimes expresses through word or- 
der an idea that another would convey through one or more con- 
crete terms. In the syntagmatic pattern gooseberry wine, gold watch, 
etc., English expresses through the mere order of the terms re- 
lations that are denoted in Modern French by prepositions (cf. vin 
de groseilles, montre en or, etc.). Modern French in turn expresses 
the notion of direct complement solely through putting the sub- 
stantive after the transitive verb (cf. je cueille une fleur 'I pick a 
flower'), while Latin and some other languages use the accusative, 
which is characterized by special case endings, etc. 

Word order is unquestionably an abstract entity, but it owes its 
existence solely to the concrete units that contain it and that flow 
in a single dimension. To think that there is an incorporeal syntax 
outside material units distributed in space would be a mistake. In 
English, the man I have seen apparently uses a zero-sign to stand for 
a syntactical fact which French expresses by que 'that' (I'homme 
que j'ai vu). But the comparing of the English with the French 
syntactical fact is precisely what produces the illusion that 
nothingness can express something. The material units alone 
actually create the value by being arranged in a certain way. We 
cannot study a syntactical value outside a number of concrete 
terms, and the very fact that we understand a linguistic complex 
(e.g. the English words cited above) shows that word-order alone 
expresses the thought. 

A material unit exists only through its meaning and function. 
This principle is especially important in understanding smaller 
units, for one is tempted to think that they exist by virtue of their 
sheer material quality — that love, for example, owes its existence 
solely to its sounds. Conversely — as we have just seen — a meaning 
and function exist only through the support of some material form. 
This principle was formulated with respect to larger syntagms or 
syntactical patterns, but only because one is inclined to see these 
as immaterial abstractions hovering over the terms of the sentence. 
By complementing each other, the two principles bear out my 
statements relative to the delimiting of units (see p. 103). 

Diachronic Linguistics 

Chapter I 

What diachronic linguistics studies is not relations between co- 
existing terms of a language-state but relations between successive 
terms that are substituted for each other in time. 

There is really no such thing as absolute immobility (see pp. 
75 ff.). Every part of language is subjected to change. To each 
period there corresponds some appreciable evolution. Evolution 
may vary in rapidity and intensity, but this does not invahdate the 
principle. The stream of language flows without interruption; 
whether its course is calm or torrential is of secondary importance. 

That we often fail to see this uninterrupted evolution is due to 
the attention paid to the literary language which, as will appear 
later (pp. 195 ff.) is superimposed on the vulgar language (i.e. the 
natural language) and is subjected to other forces. The literary 
language, once it has been formed, generally remains fairly stable 
and tends to keep its identity; its dependence on writing gives it 
special guarantees of preservation; therefore it cannot show us how 
much natural languages change when freed from any literary 

Phonetics — and all of phonetics — is the prime object of dia- 
chronic linguistics. In fact, the evolution of sounds is incompatible 
with the notion of states ; to compare phonemes or groups of pho- 
nemes with what they were previously means to set up a diachrony. 
One period may be closely related to the next, but when the two 
merge, phonetics ceases to play a part. Nothing is left but the 
description of the sounds of a language-state, and that is the task 
of phonology. 

The diachronic character of phonetics fits in very well with the 



principle that anything which is phonetic is neither significant nor 
grammatical in the broad sense of the word phonetic (see p. 18). In 
studying the history of the sounds of a word, we may ignore 
meaning and, by considering only the material envelope of a word, 
cut out phonic slices without asking whether they have a signi- 
fication. For instance, we may try to trace the meaningless group 
-ewo- in Attic Greek. If the evolution of language meant nothing 
more than the evolution of its sounds, the opposition between the 
objects that belong to each of the two parts of linguistics would 
immediately be crystal clear. It would be obvious that diachronic 
is equivalent to nongrammatical and synchronic to grammatical. 

But sounds are not the only things that change with time. Words 
change their signification. Grammatical classes evolve. Some of 
them disappear along with the forms that were used to express 
them (e.g. the dual number in Latin). And if all associative and 
syntagmatic facts in a synchronic state have their history, how 
is the absolute distinction between diachrony and synchrony to 
be maintained? This becomes very difficult when we leave the 
domain of phonetics. 

It is worth noting, however, that many changes often considered 
grammatical are really only phonetic. Such "grammatical" cre- 
ations as German Hand: Hdnde, which replaced hant: hanti (see 
p. 83), yield completely to a phonetic explanation. Another pho- 
netic fact is at the base of compounds of the type Springbrun- 
nen, Reitschule, etc. In Old High German the first element was not 
verbal but substantival. Beta-hus meant 'house of prayer'; but 
after a phonetic change brought about the fall of the final vowel 
(beta — > bet-, etc.), a semantic contact was established with the 
verb (beten, etc.), and Bethaus then signified 'house for praying.' 

Something similar occurred in compounds formed with the word 
llch 'outward appearance' in Old High German (cf. mannollch 
'having the appearance of a man,' redollch 'having the appearance 
of reason,' etc.). Today, in a number of adjectives (cf. verzeihlich, 
glaublich, etc.), -lich is comparable to the suffix in pardon-able, 
heliev-able, etc., and at the same time the interpretation of the 
first element, through loss of the final vowel (e.g. redo —^ red-), is 
Ukened to a verbal root (red- from reden) . 

In glaublich, glaub- is accordingly linked to glauben rather than 


to Glauhe, and in spite of the difference in the radical, sichtlich is 
associated with sehen and not Sicht. 

In all the preceding instances and in many other similar ones, 
the distinction between the two classes remains clear-cut. The lin- 
guist must keep this distinction in mind or risk thinking that he is 
studying historical grammar when he is actually moving succes- 
sively from diachrony, where he studies phonetic changes, to 
synchrony, where he examines the consequences that issue from 
these changes. 

But this restriction does not remove all difficulties. The evolution 
of any grammatical fact, regardless of its syntagmatic or gram- 
matical character, is not like the evolution of a sound. It is not 
simple but decomposes into a great number of particular facts of 
which only a part are phonetic. In the genesis of a syntagmatic pat- 
tern like the French future prendre ai *(I) have to take,' which be- 
came prendrai *(I) shall take,' there are at least two distinct facts, 
one psychological (the synthesis of the two elements of the concept) 
and the other phonetic and dependent on the first (the reduction 
of the two accents of the combination to one: prendre 
ai —> prendrai). 

The inflection of the strong Germanic verb (like Modern Ger- 
man gehen, gab, gegeben, etc., cf. Greek leipo, elipon, leloipa, etc.) is 
based chiefly on the ablaut of radical vowels. These alternations 
(see p. 157), which began as a relatively simple system, doubtless 
result from a mere phonetic fact. But for the oppositions to acquire 
such functional importance, the original inflectional system had to 
be simplified through a series of diverse processes: the disappear- 
ance of multiple varieties of the present and of the shades of mean- 
ing attached to them; the disappearance of the imperfect, the 
future, and the aorist; the elimination of reduplication of the per- 
fect, etc. These nonphonetic changes reduced verbal inflection to a 
restricted group of forms in which radical alternations became very 
important in signaling meaning. Thus the opposition e: a is more 
significant in gehen: gab than is the opposition e: o in Greek leipo: 
leloipa, for the German perfect lacks reduplication and the Greek 
has it. 

Phonetic change, though it does generally affect evolution in 
some way, cannot explain it entirely. Once the phonetic force is 


eliminated, we find a residue that seems to justify the idea of a 
"history of grammar," and therein lies the real difficulty. This 
indispensable distinction between diachrony and synchrony would 
call for detailed explanations that are outside the scope of this 

In the following chapters we shall study, successively, phonetic 
changes, alternation, and analogical facts, and conclude with some 
remarks about folk etymology and agglutination. 

Chapter II 

1. Their Absolute Regularity 

We saw earlier (p. 93) that a phonetic change affects not words 
but sounds. What is transformed is a phoneme. This event, though 
isolated like all other diachronic events, results in the identical 
alteration of all words containing the same phoneme. It is in this 
sense that phonetic changes are absolutely regular. 

In German, every I became ei, then ai: win, trlben, lihen, zlt 
became Wein, treiben, leihen, Zeit; every u became au: hus, zun, 
ruch became Haus, Zaun, Rauch; in the same way ii changed to eu: 
hiiser became Hduser, etc. On the contrary, the diphthong ie be- 
came I, which is still written ie: cf. biegen, lieb, Tier. In addition, 
every uo became u: muot became Mut, etc. Every z became s (writ- 

1 To this didactic external reason might be added another: in his lectures 
F. de Saussure never approached Unguistics of speaking (see pp. 17 ff.). We 
recall that a new speech form always owes its origin to a series of individual 
facts (see p. 98). We might say that the author refused to classify these as 
grammatical in the sense that an isolated act is necessarily foreign to language 
and to its system, which depends only on the set of collective patterns. It is 
only when an innovation becomes engraved in the memory throuj^h frequent 
repetition and enters the system that it effects a shift in the ocjuilibrium of 
values and that language changes, spontaneously and ipso facto. We might 
apply to grammatical evolution what was said on pages 18 and 84 about 
phonetic evolution: its end result is outside the system, for the system is never 
observed in its evolution; it differs from one moment to the next. This at- 
tempted explanation is just a simple suggestion on our part. [Ed.] 


ten ss, see p. 36) : wazer — » Wasser, jliezen -^ fliessen, etc. Every 
intervocalic h disappeared: llhen, sehen — > leien, seen (written 
leihen, sehen). Every w was changed to labiodental v (written w): 
wazer -^ waser (Wasser). 

In French, every palatalized I became y: piller 'pillar' and 
bouillir 'boil' are pronounced ptTje, huyir, etc. 

In Latin, what was once intervocalic s appears as r in another 
period: *genesis, *asena -^ generis, arena, etc. 

Any phonetic change at all, when seen in its true light, would 
confirm the perfect regularity of these transformations. 

2. Conditioned Phonetic Changes 

The preceding examples have already shown that phonetic phe- 
nomena, far from always being absolute, are more often linked to 
fixed conditions. Putting it another way, what is transformed is 
not the phonological species but the phoneme as it occurs under 
certain conditions — its environment, accentuation, etc. For in- 
stance, s became r in Latin only between vowels and in certain 
other positions; elsewhere it remains (cf. est, senex, equos). 

Absolute changes are extremely rare. That changes often appear 
to be absolute is due to the obscure or extremely general nature of 
the conditions. In German, for example, i became ei, ai, but only 
in a tonic syllable. Proto-Indo-European A;i became h in Germanic 
(cf. Proto-Indo-European *k\olsom, Latin collum, German Hals), 
but the change did not occur after s (cf. Greek skotos and Gothic 
skadus 'shadow'). 

Besides, the classing of changes as absolute or conditioned is 
based on a superficial view of things. It is more logical, in line with 
the growing trend, to speak of spontaneous and combinatory pho- 
netic phenomena. Changes are spontaneous when their cause is 
internal and combinatory when they result from the presence of 
one or more other phonemes. The passing of Proto-Indo-European 
to Germanic a (cf. Gothic skadus, German Hals, etc.) is thus a 
spontaneous fact. Germanic consonantal mutations or Lautver- 
schiehungen typify spontaneous change: Proto-Indo-European ki 
became h in Proto-Germanic (cf . Latin collum and Gothic hals) and 
Proto-Germanic t, which is preserved in English, became z (pro- 
nounced ts) in High German (cf. Gothic taihun, EngUsh ten, 


German zehn) . Against this, the passing of Latin ct, pi to Italian tt 
(cf. factum -^fatto, captlvum — ^ cattivo) is a combinatory fact, for 
the first element was assimilated to the second. The German 
umlaut is also due to an external cause, the presence of i in the 
following syllable: while gast did not change, gasti became gesti, 

The result is not an issue in either case, and whether or not there 
is a change is of no importance. For instance, on comparing Gothic 
fisks with Latin piscis and Gothic skadus with Greek skotos, we 
observe in the first pair the persistence of i and in the second the 
passing of o to a. The first phoneme remained while the second one 
changed, but what matters is that each acted independently. 

A combinatory phonetic fact is always conditioned, but a spon- 
taneous fact is not necessarily absolute, for it may be conditioned 
negatively by the absence of certain forces of change. In this way 
Proto-Indo-European ki spontaneously became qu in Latin (cf. 
quattuor, inquillna, etc.) but not, for instance, when followed by 
or M (cf. cottidie, cold secundus, etc.). In the same way the per- 
sistence of Proto-Indo-European i in Gothic fisks, etc. is linked to 
a condition — the i could not be followed by r or h, for then it be- 
came e, written at (cf . wair -^ Latin vir and maihsius — > German 

3. Points on Method 

In devising formulas to express phonetic changes we must con- 
sider the preceding distinctions or risk presenting the facts 

Here are some examples of inaccuracies. 

According to the old formulation of Verner's law, "in Germanic 
every noninitial Ip changed to 6 if the accent came after it": cf. on 
the one hand *fa])er — > *fa'6er (German Vater), *li]>ume — » *li'6ume 
(German litten), and on the other *^ris (German drei), *bro])er 
(German Bruder), *li\>o (German hide), where J? remains. This 
formula gives the active role to accent and introduces a restrictive 
clause for initial ]?. What actually happened is quite different. In 
Germanic, as in Latin, J? tended to sonorize spontaneously within 
a word ; only the placing of the accent on the preceding vowel could 
prevent it. Everything is therefore reversed. The fact is spon- 


taneous, not combinatory, and the accent is an obstacle rather than 
the precipitating cause. We should say: "Every internal Ip became 
tS unless the change was opposed by the placing of the accent on 
the preceding vowel." 

In order to separate what is spontaneous from what is com- 
binatory, we must analyze the stages of the transformation and 
not mistake the mediate result for the immediate one. It is wrong 
to explain rhotacization, for instance (cf. Latin *genesis — > generis), 
by saying that s became r between two vowels, for s, having no 
laryngeal sound, could never become r directly. There are really 
two acts. First, s became z through a combinatory change. Second, 
this sound was replaced by closely related r since z had not been 
retained in the sound system of Latin. The second change was 
spontaneous. It is therefore a serious mistake to consider the two 
dissimilar facts as a single phenomenon. The fault is on the one 
hand in mistaking the mediate result for the immediate one (s — > r 
instead of z-^r) and on the other, in regarding the total phe- 
nomenon as combinatory when this is true of only its first part. 
This is the same as saying that e became a before a nasal in French. 
The fact is that there were in succession a combinatory change — 
nasalization of e by n (cf . Latin ventum — > French vent, Latin 
femina — » French /ewa, femd) — and a spontaneous change of e to o 
(cf. vant, fdmd, now vd, fdm). To raise the objection that the change 
could occur only before a nasal consonant would be pointless. The 
question is not why e was nasalized but only whether the trans- 
formation of e into d is spontaneous or combinatory. 

The most serious mistake in method that I can recall at this 
point — although it is not related to the principles stated above — 
is that of formulating a phonetic law in the present tense, as if the 
facts embraced by it existed once and for all instead of being born 
and dying within a span of time. The result is chaos, for in this way 
any chronological succession of events is lost sight of. I have al- 
ready emphasized this point (p. 97) in analyzing the successive 
phenomena that explain the duality of trikhos: thriksi. Whoever 
says "s became r in Latin" gives the impression that rhotacization 
is inherent in the nature of language and finds it difficult to account 
for exceptions like causa, rlsus, etc. Only the formula "intervocalic 
s became r in Latin" justifies our believing that causa, rlsus, etc. 


had no s at the moment when s became r and were sheltered from 
change. The fact is that speakers still said caussa, rlssus, etc. For 
a similar reason we must say "a became e in the Ionian dialect (cf. 
mater meter, etc.), for otherwise we would not know what to make 
of forms like pdsa, phdsi, etc. (which were still pansa, phansi, etc. 
during the period of the change), 

4. Causes of Phonetic Changes 

The search for the causes of phonetic changes is one of the most 
difficult problems of linguistics. Many explanations have been 
proposed, but none of them thoroughly illuminates the problem. 

1) One supposition is that racial predispositions trace before- 
hand the direction of phonetic changes. This raises a question of 
comparative anthropology: Does the phonational apparatus vary 
from one race to the next? No, scarcely more than from one in- 
dividual to the next, A newborn Negro transplanted to France 
speaks French as well as a native Frenchman. Furthermore, ex- 
pressions like "the Italian vocal apparatus" or "the mouth of 
Germanic speakers does not allow that" imply that a mere histori- 
cal fact is a permanent characteristic. This is similar to the mistake 
of stating a phonetic law in the present tense. To pretend that the 
Ionian vocal apparatus finds long a difficult and changes it to e is 
just as erroneous as to say that d "becomes" e in Ionian. 

The Ionian vocal apparatus had no aversion to d, for this sound 
was used in certain instances. This is obviously an example, not 
of racial incapacity, but of a change in articulatory habits. In the 
same way Latin, which had not retained intervocalic s {*genesis — >• 
generis), reintroduced it a short time later (cf. *rissus — > risus). 
These changes do not indicate a permanent disposition of the 
Latin voice. 

There is doubtless a general direction that phonetic phenomena 
follow during a particular period and within a specific nation. The 
monophthongizations of diphthongs in Modern French are mani- 
festations of one and the same tendency, but we would find similar 
general currents in political history and never question their being 
merely historical without any direct influence of race, 

2) Phonetic changes have often been considered adaptions to 
conditions of soil and climate. Consonants abound in some 


northern languages while more vowels occur in certain southern 
languages, giving them their harmonious sound. Climate and living 
conditions may well influence language, but the problem becomes 
complicated as soon as we enter into detail: beside the Scandi- 
navian idioms with their many consonants are those of the Lapps 
and Finns, which are even more vocalic than Italian. We also 
notice that the accumulation of consonants in present-day German 
is in many instances a quite recent fact, due to the fall of posttonic 
vowels; that certain dialects of southern France are less opposed 
to consonantal clusters than the French of the north ; that Serbian 
has as many consonantal clusters as Great Russian, etc. 

3) The cause of phonetic changes has also been ascribed to the 
law of least effort by which two articulations are replaced by one 
or a difficult articulation by an easier one. This idea, regardless of 
what is said about it, is w^orth examining. It may clarify the cause 
of phonetic changes or at least indicate the direction that the 
search for it must take. 

The law of least effort seems to explain a certain number of cases : 
the passing of an occlusive to a spirant (Latin habere — > French 
avoir 'have') ; the fall of great clusters of final syllables in many 
languages; phenomena relating to assimilation (e.g. ly — > II as in 
*alyos — ^ Greek alios, tn — > nn as in *atnos — > Latin annus) ; the 
monophthongization of diphthongs, which is only another type of 
assimilation (e.g. ai —^ e as in French maizon — > mezo, written 
maison 'house'), etc. 

But we might mention just as many instances where exactly the 
opposite occurs. Against monophthongization, for example, we can 
set the change of German l, u, ii, to ei, au, eu. If the shortening of 
Slavic a, etod, e is due to least effort, then the reverse phenomenon 
offered by German (fater -^ Vdter, gehen — » geben) must be due to 
greatest effort. If voicing is easier than nonvoicing (cf . opera — > 
Provencal obra), the reverse must necessitate greater effort, and yet 
Spanish passed from z to X (cf . hixo, written hijo) and Germanic 
changed b, d, gtop,t,k. If loss of aspiration (cf. Proto-Indo-Euro- 
pean *bherd — > Germanic beran) is considered a lessening of effort, 
what is to be said of German, which inserts aspiration where it did 
not exist {Tanne, Pute, etc., pronounced Thanne, Phute)? 

The foregoing remarks do not pretend to refute the proposed 


solution. In fact, we can scarcely determine what is easiest or most 
difficult for each language to pronounce. Shortening means less 
effort in the sense of duration, but it is equally true that long 
sounds allow careless pronunciations while short sounds require 
more care. Given different predispositions, we can therefore pre- 
sent two opposing facts from the same viewpoint. Thus where k 
became ts (cf. Latin cedere — > Italian cedere), there is apparently an 
increase in effort if we consider only the end terms of the change, 
but the impression would probably differ if we reconstructed the 
chain: k became palatalized k' through assimilation to the folloA\'ing 
vowel ; then k' passed to ky; the pronunciation did not become more 
difficult; two tangled elements in k' were clearly differentiated; 
then from ky speakers passed successively to ty, tx, t^, everywhere 
with less effort. 

The law of least effort would require extensive study. It would 
be necessary to consider simultaneously the physiological view- 
point (the question of articulation) and the psychological view- 
point (the question of attention). 

4) An explanation that has been favored for several years 
attributes changes in pronunciation to our phonetic education 
during childhood. After much groping and many trials and cor- 
rections, the child succeeds in pronouncing what he hears around 
him; here would be the starting point of all changes; certain un- 
corrected inaccuracies would win out in the individual and become 
fixed in the generation that is growing up. Children often pro- 
nounce t for k, and our languages offer no corresponding phonetic 
change in their history. But this is not true of other deformations. 
In Paris, for instance, many children pronounce fl'eur (fleur 
'flower') and Wane (blanc 'white') with palatalized I; now it was 
through a similar process that florem became ft'ore, then fiore, in 

The preceding observations deserve careful attention but leave 
the problem undented. Indeed, what prompts a generation to 
retain certain mistakes to the exclusion of others that are just as 
natural is not clear. From all appearances the choice of faulty pro- 
nunciations is completely arbitrary, and there is no obvious reason 
for it. Besides, why did the phenomenon break through at one time 
rather than another? 


The same question applies to all the preceding causes of phonetic 
changes if they are accepted as real. Climatic influence, racial pre- 
disposition, and the tendency toward least effort are all permanent 
or lasting. Why do they act sporadically, sometimes on one point 
of the phonological system and sometimes on another? A historical 
event must have a determining cause, yet we are not told what 
chances in each instance to unleash a change whose general cause 
has existed for a long time. This is the most diflEicult point to 

5) Phonetic changes are sometimes linked to the general state 
of the nation at a particular moment. Languages go through some 
periods that are more turbulent than others. There have been 
attempts to relate phonetic changes to turbulent periods in a 
nation's history and in this way to discover a link between political 
instability and linguistic instability; this done, some think that 
they can apply conclusions concerning language in general to 
phonetic changes. They observe, for example, that the sharpest 
upheavals of Latin in its development into the Romance languages 
coincided with the highly disturbed period of invasions. Two dis- 
tinctions will serve as guideposts: 

a) Political stability does not influence language in the same way 
as political instability ; here there is no reciprocity. When poUtical 
equilibrium slows down the evolution of language, a positive 
though external cause is involved. But instability, which has the 
opposite effect, acts only negatively. ImmobiUty — the relative 
fixation of an idiom — may have an external cause (the influence 
of a court, school, an academy, writing, etc.) which in turn is posi- 
tively favored by social and political equilibrium. But if some 
external upheaval that has affected the equihbrium of the nation 
precipitates Hnguistic evolution, this is because language simply 
reverts back to its free state and follows its regular course. The 
immobility of Latin of the classical period is due to external facts; 
the changes that it later underwent, however, were self-generated 
in the absence of certain external conditions. 

b) Here we are dealing only with phonetic phenomena and not 
with every type of modification of language. Grammatical changes 
are obviously similar. Because they are always closely linked to 


thought, grammatical facts are more easily affected by the impact 
of external upheavals, which have a more immediate repercussion 
on the mind. But there is no solid basis for the behef that sudden 
evolutions of the sounds of an idiom correspond to turbulent 
periods in the history of a nation. 

Still, it is impossible to cite a single period — even among those 
where language is in a deceptive state of immobility — that has 
witnessed no phonetic changes. 

6) The "linguistic substratum" has also been posited as the 
cause of phonetic changes. The absorption of an indigenous popu- 
lation by newcomers brings about certain changes. The difference 
between Proven9al and French {langue d'oc and langue dfoil) would 
accordingly correspond to a different proportion of the autoch- 
thonous Celtic element in the two parts of Gaul. This theory has 
also been used to trace the dialectal differences of Italian and the 
influence of Ligurian, Etruscan, etc., depending on the region. But 
first, this hypothesis supposes circumstances that are rarely found. 
Second, one must be more specific : Did earlier populations intro- 
duce some of their own articulatory habits into the new language 
on adopting it? This is admissible and quite natural. But if the 
imponderable forces of race, etc. are called in anew, the pitfalls 
described earlier reappear. 

7) A final explanation — which scarcely merits the name — com- 
pares phonetic changes to changes in fashion. But no one has 
explained these changes. We know only that they depend on laws 
of imitation, which are the concern of the psychologist. This ex- 
planation, though it does not solve our problem, has the advantage 
of fitting it into another larger problem and positing a psychologi- 
cal basis for phonetic changes. But where is the starting point of 
imitation? That is the mystery, in phonetic changes as well as in 
changes of fashion. 

5. The Effect of Phonetic Changes Is Unlimited 

If we try to determine how far phonetic changes will go, we see 
immediately that they are unhmited and incalculable, i.e. we can- 
not foresee where they will stop. It is childish to think that the 
word can be changed only up to a certain point, as if there were 
something about it that could preserve it. Phonetic modifications 


derive their character from the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign,^ 
which is distinct from the signified. 

We can easily observe that the sounds of a word have been 
affected at a certain moment and see the extent of the damage, but 
we cannot say beforehand how far the word has become or will 
become unrecognizable. 

Like every word having the same ending, Proto-Indo-European 
*aiwom (cf . Latin aevom) changed to *aiwan, *aiwa, *aiw in Proto- 
Germanic; next, *aiw became ew in Old High German, as did every 
word that contained the cluster aiw; then the change of final wtoo 
resulted in eo, which in turn passed to eo, io in accordance with 
other equally general rules; finally io became ie, je, giving Modern 
German je (cf. das schonste, was ichje gesehen habe 'the prettiest 
that I have ever seen'). 

The modern word does not contain a single one of its original 
elements when considered from the viewpoint of the starting point 
and the end result. Each step, when viewed separately, is abso- 
lutely certain and regular and limited in its effect; viewed as a 
whole, however, the word gives the impression of an unlimited 
number of modifications. We might make the same observation 
about Latin calidum by first leaving out the transitional forms 
and comparing this form with Modern French so (written chaud 
'warm'), then retracing the steps: calidum, calidu, caldu, cold, colt, 
tsalt, tsaut, Saut, ^ot, ^o. Compare also Vulgar Latin *waidanju 
— > ge (written gain 'gain'), minus —^ mwe (written moins 'less'), 
hoc nil -^ wi (written oui 'yes'). 

A phonetic change is also unlimited and incalculable in that it 
affects all types of signs, making no distinction between radicals, 
suffixes, etc. This must be true a priori, for if grammar interfered, 
the phonetic phenomenon would mingle with the synchronic fact, 
a thing that is radically impossible. It is in this sense that we can 
speak of the blind nature of the evolutions of sounds. 

For instance, s fell in Greek after n not only in *khdnses 'geese,' 
*menses 'months' (giving khenes, mtnes), where it had no gram- 
matical value, but also in verbal forms like *etensa, *ephansa, etc. 
(giving eteina, ephena, etc.), where it marked the aorist. In Middle 
High German the posttonic vowels i, e, a, o regularly became e 

" Meaning signifier. See p. 75, note. [Tr.] 


(gihil — ^ Giebel, meistar — > Meister) even though the difference in 
timbre marked a number of inflectional endings; that is how the 
accusative singular hoion and the genitive and dative singular hoten 
merged into hoten. 

Phonetic changes will thus cause a profound disturbance in the 
grammatical organism if they are not stopped by some barrier. 
This will be the subject matter of the next chapter. 

Chapter III 


1. The Breaking of the Grammatical Bond 

One of the first consequences of the phonetic phenomenon is the 
breaking of the grammatical bond that unites two or more terms. 
The result is that one word is no longer felt to be derived from 
another : 

mansio — *mansidndticus 

maison 'house' || menage 'housekeeping' 

The collective mind of the community of speakers formerly saw 
*mansid-ndticus as a derivative of mansio; then phonetic vicissi- 
tudes separated them. Similarly: 

(vervex — vervecdrius) 

Vulgar Latin berblx — herblcdrius 

brebis 'ewe' || berger 'shepherd' 

The separation naturally has its countereffect on value. In 
certain local dialects berger means specifically 'a herder of oxen.' 
Other examples : 

Grdtidnopolis—grdtidnopolitdnus \\\\\ decem — undecim 
Grenoble \\ Gresivaudan |||{||||||||||| dix 'ten' || onze 'eleven' 


Gothic bitan 'bite' — hitum 'we have bitten' — hitr 'bitter, biting' is 
a similar example. Following the change of t to ts (2) on the one 
hand and the conservation of the cluster tr on the other, West 
Germanic had blzan, bizum \ \ hitr. 

In addition, phonetic evolution may break the normal relation 
between two inflected forms of the same word. In Old French, for 
instance, comes — comiiem became cuens \ \ comte, bard — baronem — > 
ber II baron, presbiter — presbiterum — > prestre \\ provoire. 

Or an ending may split in two. All accusative singulars were 
characterized by the same final -m in Proto-Indo-European 
(*eki worn, *owim, *podm, *mdter'm, etc.).' In Latin there was no 
radical change in this respect, but in Greek the very different treat- 
ment of the sonant and con-sonant nasal created two distinct 
series of iorms'.hippon, 6{w)in against poda, matera. The accusative 
plural evinces a similar fact (cf. hippous and podas). 

2. Effacement of the Structure of Words 

Another grammatical effect of phonetic changes is that the dis- 
tinct parts that helped to fix the value of a word become un- 
analyzable. The word becomes an indivisible whole. Examples: 
French ennemi 'enemy' (cf. Latin in-imlcus — amicus); Latin 
perdere (cf. older per-dare — dare), amicio (for *ambjacio — jacio); 
German Drittel (for drit-teil — Teil) . 

Effacement of the structure of words is obviously related at 
several points to the breaking of grammatical bonds (see Section 1 
above). For instance, stating that ennemi cannot be analyzed is 
another way of saying that its parts can no longer be compared as 
in in-imlcus from simple amicus. The formula : 

amicus — inimicus 
ami II ennemi 

is very similar to : 

mansio — mansiondticus 
maison \\ menage. 

Cf . also : decem — undecim against dix \ \ onze. 
3 Or -n? See p. 92, note. [Ed.] 


The simple Classical Latin forms hunc, hanc, hdc, etc. go back 
to hon-ce, han-ce, ha-ce, etc. (attested by epigraphic forms) and are 
the result of the agglutination of a pronoun with a particle -ce. 
Once hon-ce, etc. could be compared with ec-ce, etc., but com- 
parison was no longer possible after -e had fallen. That is just 
another way of saying that the elements of hunc, hanc, hdc, etc. 
are no longer distinct. 

Phonetic evolution first obscures analysis, then makes it com- 
pletely impossible. The inflection of nouns in Proto-Indo-European 
is a case in point. 

The Proto-Indo-European declension was as follows : nominative 
singular *pod-s, accusative *pod-m, dative *pod-ai, locative *pod-i, 
nominative plural *pod-es, accusative *pod-ns, etc. At first the 
inflection of *ek\Wos was identical: *ekiWo-s, *ekiWo-m, *ekiWO-ai, 
*ekiWo-i, *ekiWO-es, *ekiWO-ns, etc. ; during that period *€kiwo- was 
singled out as easily as *pod-. But vocalic contractions later modi- 
fied that state, giving dative *ek\Woi, locative *ek\Woi, nominative 
plural *ekiWos. From that moment the distinctness of the radical 
*ekiWO- was compromised and its analysis became elusive. Still 
later, new changes like the differentiation between accusatives 
(see p. 154) wiped out the last trace of the original state. The con- 
temporaries of Xenophon probably had the impression that the 
radical was hipp- and that the inflectional endings were vocahc 
(hipp-os, etc.), with the result that the endings of words Uke 
*ekiWO-s and *pod-s were distinct. In inflection as elsewhere, any- 
thing which interferes with analysis helps to loosen grammatical 

3. There Are No Phonetic Doublets 

In the two cases that we have examined (Sections 1 and 2), 
evolution radically separated two terms that originally were united 
grammatically. This phenomenon might give rise to a serious mis- 
take in interpretation. 

On observing the relative identity of Vulgar Latin bard: baronem 
and the dissimilarity of Old French ber: baron, is one not justified 
in saying that one and the same original unit (bar-) developed in 
divergent directions and produced two forms? No, for the same unit 
cannot be subjected at the same time and in the same place to two 


different transformations; that would be contrary to the very defi- 
nition of phonetic changes. By itself, phonetic evolution cannot 
create two forms to replace one. 

Here, introduced by way of examples, are the objections that 
might be raised against my thesis : 

Collocdre gave both coucher 'sleep' and colloquer 'place,' someone 
might say. No, it gave only coucher; colloquer is only a learned 
borrowing from Latin (cf. rangon 'ransom' and redemption 're- 
demption') . 

Another objection might be that cathedra gave two authentic 
French words, chaire 'pulpit' and chaise 'chair.' The fact that 
chaise is a dialectal form is forgotten. The Parisian dialect changed 
intervocalic r to z. For instance, speakers said pese, mese for pere 
'father,' mkre 'mother'; literary French has kept only two speci- 
mens of the localism: chaise and besides, the doublet of hericles 
'spectacles,' derived from heryl 'beryl.' The same is true of Picard 
r escape 'one who has escaped (death or injury),' which has just 
gained currency in French and now stands in contrast to rechappe 
'one who has (voluntarily) escaped (from confinement).' French 
cavalier 'rider' and chevalier 'knight' and cavalcade 'ride' and 
chevauchee 'distance traversed' are found side by side simply be- 
cause cavalier and cavalcade were borrowed from Italian. The 
development of calidum, which became chaud 'warm' in French 
and caldo in Italian, is essentially the same. All the foregoing 
examples are instances of borrowings. 

The answer to the objection that the Latin pronoun me resulted 
in two forms in French, me and moi (cf . il me voit 'he sees me' and 
c'est moi qu'il voit 'it's me that he sees') is this: unstressed Latin 
me became me while stressed me became moi; now the presence or 
absence of stress depends, not on the phonetic laws that made me 
become me and moi, but on the function of the word in the sen- 
tence; it is a grammatical duality. In the same way, German 
*ur- remained ur- when stressed and became er- when protonic 
(cf . iirlauh and erlauhen) ; but the functioning of the accent is itself 
linked to the structural patterns that contained ur- and thus to 
a grammatical and synchronic condition. Finally, to come back 
to the first example, differences of form and accent in the pair 
hard: haronem evidently antedate phonetic changes. 


In fact, phonetic doublets do not exist. The evolution of sounds 
only emphasizes previous differences. Wherever these differences 
are not due to external causes (as in borrowings), they imply gram- 
matical and synchronic dualities that are absolutely unrelated to 
phonetic changes. 

4. Alternation 

Two words like maison: menage seldom tempt us to try to dis- 
cover what is responsible for the difference, either because the 
differential elements {-ezo and -en- do not lend themselves well to 
comparison, or because no other pair offers a parallel opposition. 
But often it happens that the two related words differ in only one 
or two elements which are easily singled out, and that the same 
difference is regularly repeated in a series of like pairs; this is 
alternation, the largest and most common of the grammatical facts 
in which phonetic changes play a part. 

In French, every Latin o in an open syllable became eu when 
stressed and ou when protonic; this produced pairs like pouvons 
'(we) can': peuvent '(they) can,' oeuvre 'work': ouvrier 'worker,' 
nouveau: neuf 'new,' etc., where it is easy to single out a differential 
and regularly variable element. In Latin, rhotacization causes 
gero to alternate with gestus, oneris with onus, maeor with maestus, 
etc. Since s was treated differently according to the position of the 
accent in Germanic, Middle High German has ferliesen: ferloren, 
kiessen: gekoren, friesen: gefroren, etc. The fall of Proto-Indo- 
European e is reflected in Modern German in the oppositions 
heissen: hiss, leiden: litt, reiten: ritt, etc. 

In all the preceding examples the radical element is the part that 
is affected. But of course all parts of a word may have similar 
oppositions. Nothing is more common, for instance, than a prefix 
that takes different forms according to the make-up of the first part 
of the radical (cf. Greek apo-didomi: ap-erchomai, French inconnu 
'unknowTi' : inutile 'useless'). The Proto-Indo-European alternation 
e: 0, which certainly must, in the last analysis, have a phonetic 
basis, is found in a great number of suffixal elements (Greek hippos: 
hippe, pher-o-men: pher-e-te, gen-os: gen-e-os for *gen-es-os, etc.). 
Old French gives special treatment to Latin accented a after 
palatals; this results in an e: ie alternation in a number of in- 


flectional endings (cf. chant-er: jug-ier, chant-e; jug-ie, chant-ez: 
jug-iez, etc.). 

Alternation is then defined as a correspondence existing between 
two definite sounds or groups of sounds and shifting regularly between 
two series of coexisting forms. 

Phonetic changes alone do not explain doublets, and are ob- 
viously neither the sole cause nor the main cause of alternation. 
Whoever says that Latin nov- became neuv- and nouv- (French 
neuve and nouveau) through a phonetic change is fabricating an im- 
aginary unity and failing to see a pre-existing synchronic duality. 
The different position of nov- in nov-us and nov-ellus is both ante- 
cedent to the phonetic change and distinctly grammatical (cf. 
baro: bar mem). The synchronic duality is what originates and 
makes possible any alternation. The phonetic phenomenon broke 
no unity; it merely made an opposition between coexisting terms 
more obvious by discarding certain sounds. It is a mistake — and 
one shared by many linguists — to assume that alternation is pho- 
netic simply because sounds make up its substance and play a part 
in its genesis through their alterations. The fact is that alternation, 
whether considered from its starting point or end result, is always 
both grammatical and synchronic. 

5. Laws of Alternation 

Can alternation be reduced to laws? If so, what is the nature of 

these laws? 

Take the alternation e: i, which occurs so frequently in Modern 
German. If we lump all examples together and consider them in- 
discriminately (geben: gibt, Feld: Gefilde, Wetter: wittern, helfen: 
Hilfe, sehen: Sicht, etc.), we can formulate no general principle. 
But if we extract from this mass the pair geben: gibt and set it in 
opposition to schelten: schilt, helfen: hilft, nehmen: nimmt, etc., we 
see that the alternation coincides with distinctions of tense, person, 
etc. In lang: Ldnge, stark: Starke, hart: Hdrte, etc., a similar oppo- 
sition is linked to the formation of substantives from adjectives; 
in Hand: Hdnde, Gast: Gdste, etc., to the formation of the plural, 
and so on for all the many cases that Germanic students class 
under ablaut (consider also finden: fand, or finden: Fund, binden: 
band, or binden: Bund, schiessen: schoss: Schuss, fliessen: floss: 


Fluss, etc.). Ablaut, or radical vocalic variation coinciding with a 
grammatical opposition, is a prime example of alternation but is 
distinguished from the general phenomenon by no particular 

Ordinarily, then, alternation is distributed regularly among 
several terms and coincides with an important opposition of 
function, class, or determination. It is possible to speak of gram- 
matical laws of alternation, but these laws are only a fortuitous 
result of the underlying phonetic facts. When phonetic facts create 
a regular opposition between two series of terms that have an op- 
position of value, the mind seizes upon the material difference, 
gives it significance, and makes it the carrier of the conceptual 
difference (see pp. 84 ff.). The laws of alternation, like all syn- 
chronic laws, are simple structural principles; they are not im- 
perative. It is completely wrong to say, as people so readily do, 
that the a of Nacht changes to a in the plural Nachte, for this gives 
the illusion that a transformation governed by an imperative 
principle comes between one term and the next. What we are ac- 
tually dealing with is a simple opposition of forms resulting from 
phonetic evolution. To be sure analogy (to be considered later in 
Chapter VI) may create new pairs that show the same phonic 
difference (cf. Kranz: Krdnze, modeled on Gast: Gdste, etc.). The 
law thus seems to apply like a rule that governs usage to the extent 
of modifying it. But we recall that in language these permutations 
are at the mercy of conflicting analogical influences, and this 
suffices to show that such rules are always precarious and fit per- 
fectly the definition of synchronic law. 

Sometimes the phonetic cause of the alternation is still evident. 
In Old High German, for instance, the pairs cited on page 158 had 
the forms gehan: gibit, feld: gcfildi, etc. During that period the 
radical itself appeared with i instead of e wherever i followed but 
with e in every other instance. The alternation of Latin facio: 
conficio, amicus: inimlcus, facilis: difficilis, etc., is likewise linked 
to a phonic condition which speakers would have expressed in this 
way : the a of such words as facto and amicus alternates with i in 
medial syllables of words in the same family. 

But the foregoing phonic oppositions suggest exactly the same 
observations as all grammatical laws: they are synchronic. To for- 


get this is to risk making the mistake in interpretation pointed out 
above (see pp. 96 ff.). Faced with a pair like f acid: conficio, we must 
indeed guard against confusing the relation between these co- 
existing terms and the relation that ties together the successive 
terms of the diachronic fact (confacio — > conficio) . We may be 
tempted to confuse them since the cause of phonetic differentiation 
is still apparent in the pair, but the phonetic fact belongs to the 
past, and for speakers there is only a single synchronic opposition. 
All of this confirms what was said about the strictly grammatical 
nature of alternation. The word permutation, which is apt in some 
ways, has been used for alternation but should be avoided for the 
very reason that it has often been applied to phonetic changes and 
suggests a false notion of movement where there is only a state. 

6. Alternation and Grammatical Bond 

We have seen how phonetic evolution may cause a break in the 
grammatical bonds that unite words by changing the form of the 
words. But this is true only of isolated pairs like maison: menage, 
Teil: Drittel, etc., not of alternation. 

It is obvious from the first that any slightly regular phonic oppo- 
sition of two elements tends to establish a bond between them. 
Wetter is instinctively related to wittern because speakers are ac- 
customed to seeing e alternate with i. As soon as speakers feel that 
there is a general law governing a phonic opposition, the usual 
correspondence has all the more reason for forcing itself on their 
attention and helping to tighten rather than loosen the gram- 
matical bond. This is how the German ablaut reinforces recog- 
nitions of the radical unit across vocalic variations (see p. 158). 

The same is true of nonsignificant alternations that are linked 
to a mere phonic condition. In French, the prefix re- (rependre 
'retake,' regagner 'regain,' retoucher 'retouch,' etc.) is reduced to 
r- before a vowel (rouvrir 'reopen,' racheter 'buy back,' etc.). Simi- 
larly, under the same conditions the prefix in-, still very much 
alive although of learned origin, has two distinct forms: e- (in 
inconnu 'unknown,' indigne 'unworthy,' invertebre 'invertebrate,' 
etc.) and in- (in inavouahle 'inadmissible,' inutile 'useless,' in- 
esthetique 'unaesthetic,' etc.). In no way does this difference break 


unity of conception, for meaning and function are apprehended 
as identical, and language has determined where it will use one 
form or the other. 

Chapter IV 

1. Definition and Examples 

That phonetic evolution is a disturbing force is now obvious. 
Wherever it does not create alternations, it helps to loosen the 
grammatical bonds between words; the total number of forms is 
uselessly increased ; the linguistic mechanism is obscured and com- 
plicated to the extent that the irregularities born of phonetic 
changes win out over the forms grouped under general patterns; in 
other words, to the extent that absolute arbitrariness wins out 
over relative arbitrariness (see p. 1.33). 

Fortunately, analogy counterbalances the effect of phonetic 
transformations. To analogy are due all normal, nonphonetic 
modifications of the external side of words. 

Analogy supposes a model and its regular imitation. An ana- 
logical form is a form made on the model of one or more other forms 
in accordance with a definite rule. 

The nominative form of Latin honor, for instance, is analogical. 
Speakers first said honos: honosem, then through rhotacization of 
the s, honos: honorem. After that, the radical had a double form. 
This duality was eliminated by the new form honor, created on the 
pattern of orator: ordtorem, etc., through a process which sub- 
sequently will be set up as a proportion : 

ordtorem: ordtor = honorem: x 
X = honor 

Thus analogy, to offset the diversifying action of a phonetic 
change {honos: honorem), again unified the forms and restored 
regularity (honor: honorem). 

For a long time French speakers said il preuve, nous prouvons, its 


preuvent. Today they say il prouve 'he proves/ Us prouvent 'they 
prove/ using forms that have no phonetic explanation. II aime 'he 
loves' is derived from Latin amat while nous aimons 'we love' is the 
analogical form for amons; speakers should also say amahle instead 
of aimable 'amiable.' In Greek, intervocalic s disappeared: -oso- 
became -eo- (cf . geneos for *genesos) . Still, intervocalic s is found in 
the future and aorist tenses with s. In German, Gast: Gdste, Balg: 
Bdlge, etc. are phonetic, but Kranz: Kranze (previously kranz: 
kranza), Hals: Hdlse (previously halsa), etc. are due to imitation. 

Analogy favors regularity and tends to unify structural and in- 
flectional procedures. But it is capricious; beside Kranz: Kranze, 
etc., stand Tag: Tage, Salz: Salze, etc., which for one reason or 
another have resisted analogy. Thus we cannot say beforehand 
how far imitation of a model will go or which types will bring it 
about. The most numerous forms do not necessarily unleash 
analogy. The Greek perfect has the active forms pepheiiga, pephe- 
ugas, pepheugamen, but all the middle forms are inflected without 
a: pephugmai, pephugmetha, etc., and the language of Homer shows 
that the a was formerly missing in the plural and in the dual of the 
active (cf. idmen, eikion, etc.). Analogy started solely from the 
first person singular of the active and won over almost the whole 
paradigm of the perfect indicative. This development is also note- 
worthy because here analogy attached -a-, originally an inflec- 
tional element, to the radical, forming pepheuga-men. The reverse — 
attaching the radical element to the suffix — is much more common 
(see p. 170). 

Two or three words often suffice to create a general form such 
as an inflectional ending. In Old High German, weak verbs like 
haben, lohon, etc. had an -m in the first person singular of the 
present : hahem, lohom, etc. The -m derives from a few verbs similar 
to -^mi verbs in Greek (bim, *tdm, gom, tuom), which by themselves 
forced the ending on the whole weak conjugation. Notice that here 
analogy did not eliminate a phonetic difference but generalized a 
formative method. 

2. Analogical Phenomena Are Not Changes 

The first linguists did not understand the nature of the phe- 
nomenon of analogy, which they called "false analogy." They 


thought that in inventing honor, Latin "had made a mistake" 
concerning the prototype honos. For them, everything that de- 
viated from the original state was an irregularity, a distortion of 
an ideal form. The fact is that, through an illusion characteristic 
of their time, they saw in the original state of the language some- 
thing superior and perfect, with the result that they did not even 
ask themselves whether this state had been preceded by another. 
Every hberty taken with respect to this state was then an anomaly. 
The neogrammarian school was the first to assign analogy to its 
proper place by showing that it is, along with phonetic changes, the 
prime force in the evolution of languages, the procedure through 
which languages pass from one state of organization to another. 

But exactly what are analogical phenomena? People generally 
think of them as changes. But are they? 

Every analogical fact is a play with a cast of three: (1) the 
traditional, legitimate heir (e.g. honos) ; (2) the rival (honor) ; and 
(3) a collective character made up of the forms that created the 
rival (honorem, orator, ordtorem, etc.). One might readily suppose 
that honor is a modification, a "metaplasm," of honos and say that 
it drew most of its substance from honos. But the only form that 
had no part in the production of honor is this very honos! 

The phenomenon of analogy may be pictured by the diagram: 


Honos honorem, 

(which plays orator, oratorem, etc. honor 

no part) (productive group) 

Here we obviously have a "paraplasm," the installation of a 
rival beside a traditional form — in short, a creation. Whereas pho- 
netic change introduces nothing new without annulling what has 
preceded it (honorem replaces honosem), the analogical form does 
not necessarily entail the disappearance of its double. Honor and 
honos coexisted for a time and were used interchangeably. Still, 
since language is reluctant to keep two signifiers for a single idea, 
the original form, which is less regular, generally falls into disuse 
and disappears. The result is what gives the impression of a trans- 
formation. Once analogy has completed its work, the opposition 


between the old state {honos: honorem) and the new {honor: 
honor em) is apparently the same as the opposition that results 
from the evolution of sounds. At the moment when honor was born, 
however, nothing was changed since honor replaced nothing; nor 
is the disappearance of honos a change, for this phenomenon is 
independent of the first. Wherever we can follow the course of 
linguistic events, we see that analogical innovation and the elimi- 
nation of the older form are two distinct things, and that nowhere 
do we come upon a transformation. 

So little does analogy have the characteristic of replacing one 
form by another that it often produces forms which replace nothing 
at all. German can make a diminutive in -chen from any sub- 
stantive with a concrete meaning; if the form Elefantchen were 
introduced into the language, it would supplant nothing that 
already exists. Similarly in French, on the model of pension pen- 
sion': pensionnaire 'pensionary,' reaction, 'reaction': reactionnaire 
'reactionary,' etc., someone might create interventionnaire, repres- 
sionnaire, etc., meaning 'one who favors intervention,' 'one who 
favors repression,' etc. The process is evidently the same as the 
one that engendered honor; both recall the same formula : 

reaction: reactionnaire = repression: x 

X = repressionnaire 

In neither case is there the slightest pretext for speaking of change ; 
repressionnaire replaces nothing. Another example: some French 
speakers use the analogical form finaux instead of finals, which is 
more common; someone might coin the &dieciive firmamental and 
give it the plural form firmamentaux. Should we say that there is 
change in finaux and creation in firmamentaux? In both cases there 
is creation. On the pattern of mur 'wall' : enmurer 'wall in,' speakers 
formed tour 'turn': entourer 'surround,' and jour 'light': ajourer 
'open' (in un travail ajoure 'work that admits light, i.e. lacework,' 
etc.). These rather recent derivatives seem to be creations. But if 
I notice that entorner and ajorner, built on torn and jorn, were used 
during an earlier period, must I change my mind and say that 
entourer and ajourer are modifications of the older words? The 
illusion of analogical change comes from setting up a relation be- 
tween the new form and the one replaced by it. But this is a mis- 


take since formations classed as changes (like honor) are basically 
the same as those I call creations (like repressionnaire) . 

3. Analogy as a Creative Force in Language 

When, after seeing what analogy is not, we begin to study it for 
what it is, we find that it seems very simply to blend with the 
principle of linguistic creativity in general. What is that principle? 

Analogy is psychological, but this does not suffice to separate 
it from phonetic phenomena, for they may also be considered 
psychological (see p. 151). We must go further and say that anal- 
ogy is grammatical. It supposes awareness and understanding 
of a relation between forms. Meaning plays no part in phonetic 
changes, but it must intervene in analogy. 

As far as we can tell, neither comparison with other forms nor 
meaning had anything to do with the passing from intervocalic s 
to r in Latin. The skeleton of the form honosem passed to honor em. 
Other forms must be introduced to account for the appearance of 
honor beside honos. This is shown by the proportion: 

drat or em: orator = honor em: x 
X = honor 

The new combination would have no basis if the mind did not 
associate its forms through their meanings. 

Analogy is grammatical throughout, but let us hasten to add 
that its end result — creation — belongs at first only to speaking. It 
is the chance product of an isolated speaker. Here, at the very 
fringe of language, is where the phenomenon must first be sought. 
Still, two things must be kept apart: (1) awareness of the relation 
that ties together the productive forms; and (2) the result sug- 
gested by the comparison, the form improvised by the speaker to 
express his thought. Only the result belongs to speaking. 

Analogy, then, is one more lesson in separating language from 
speaking (see pp. 17 ff.). It shows us that the second depends on 
the first, and it points to the essence of the linguistic mechanism as 
described on page 130. Any creation must be preceded by an un- 
conscious comparison of the materials deposited in the storehouse 
of language, where productive forms are arranged according to 
their syntagmatic and associative relations. 


A major part of the analogical phenomenon is therefore com- 
pleted before the new form appears. Speech is continuously en- 
gaged in decomposing its units, and this activity contains not only 
every possibility of effective talk, but every possibility of ana- 
logical formation. It is wrong to suppose that the productive proc- 
ess is at work only when the new formation actually occurs. The 
elements were already there. A newly formed word like in-decor- 
ahle already has a potential existence in language; all its elements 
are found in syntagms like decor-er 'decorate,' decor-ation 'decor- 
ation,' pardonn-able 'pardonable,' mani-able 'manageable': in- 
connu 'unknown,' in-sense 'insane,' etc., and the final step of 
realizing it in speaking is a small matter in comparison with the 
build-up of forces that makes it possible. 

In short analogy, considered by itself, is only one side of the 
phenomenon of interpretation, one manifestation of the general 
activity that singles out units for subsequent use. That is why I 
say that analogy is entirely grammatical and sjmchronic. 

The grammatical and synchronic character of analogy suggests 
two observations that confirm my views on absolute and relative 
arbitrariness (see pp. 131 ff.). 

1) Words can be rated for capacity to engender other words to 
the extent to which they themselves are decomposable. Simple 
words are by definition unproductive (cf. French magasin 'ware- 
house,' arbre 'tree,' racine 'root,' etc.). Magasinier 'warehouse- 
keeper' was not engendered by magasin. It was formed on the pat- 
tern of prisonier 'prisoner': prison 'prison,' etc. In the same way 
emmagisiner 'to warehouse' owes its existence to the analogy of 
enmailloter 'swathe,' encadrer 'frame/ encapuchonner 'put on a 
cowl,' etc., which contain maillot 'swaddling-clothes,' cadre 'frame,' 
capuchon 'cowl,' etc. 

Each language then has both productive and sterile words, in 
varying proportions. This takes us back to the distinction between 
"lexicological" and "grammatical" languages (see p. 133). In 
Chinese, most words are not decomposable; in an artificial lan- 
guage, however, almost all words are. An Esperantist has un- 
limited freedom to build new words on a given root. 

2) We have seen (p. 161) that any analogical creation may be 
pictured as similar to a proportion. This formula is frequently used 


to explain the phenomenon of analogical creation itself, but we 
have sought its explanation in the analysis and reconstruction of 
elements furnished by language. 

There is a conflict between the two notions. If proportion is a 
satisfactory explanation, why posit an analysis of elements? To 
form indecorable, there is no point in extracting its elements (m- 
decor-able). All we need do is to take the whole and put it in the 
equation : 

pardonner: impardonnable, etc. = decorer: x 

X = indecorable 

Here, no compUcated operation such as the grammarian's con- 
scious analysis is presumed on the part of the speaker. In Krantz: 
Krdnze, modeled on Gast: Gdste and the like, decomposition seems 
less probable than proportion since the radical of the model may 
be either Gast- or Gdst-. A phonic characteristic of Gdste might 
simply have been carried over to Kranze. 

Of the two theories, which fits the facts? (Bear in mind that 
Kranz does not necessarily exclude analysis. We have observed 
alternations in roots and prefixes, and the feeling for alternation 
may well exist alongside positive analysis; see p. 158.) 

The two contrasting notions are reflected in two different gram- 
matical doctrines. European grammars work with proportion ; they 
explain the formation of the German preterite, for example, by 
starting from whole words. On the model of setzen: setzte the pupil 
is told to form the preterite of lachen, etc. Against this, Hindu 
grammar would study roots (setz-, lack-, etc.) in one chapter and 
preterite endings {-te, etc.) in another. The elements that result 
from analysis would be given, and from these elements whole words 
would have to be reconstructed. In every Sanskrit dictionary, 
verbs are arranged in the order assigned to them by their roots. 

Theoreticians of grammar will incline toward whichever method 
is predominant in their linguistic group. 

Old Latin apparently favors the analytical procedure. Here is 
obvious proof : quantity is not the same in f actus and actus despite 
fdcio and ago; we must assume that actus goes back to *dgtos and 
attribute lengthening of the vowel to the voiced consonant that 
followed; this hypothesis is fully confirmed by the Romance Ian- 


guages. The opposition specio: spectus against tego: tectus is reflected 
in French depit 'despite' (= despedus) and toil 'roof (= tectum); 
cf. conficio: confectus (French confit 'candied') against rego: rectus 
{dlrectus —^ French droit 'straight'). But *agtos, *tegtos, *regtos 
were not inherited from Proto-Indo-European, which certainly had 
*aktos, *tektos, etc.; prehistoric Latin introduced them, and this 
despite the diflSculty of pronouncing a voiced consonant before a 
voiceless one. This was made possible only by acute awareness of 
the radical units ag-, teg-, reg-. The f eehng for word-parts (radicals, 
suffixes, etc.) and their arrangement was therefore strong in Old 
Latin. In all probability the feeling is not so acute in modern lan- 
guages but is stronger in German than in French (see p. 186 f.). 

Chapter V 


L How an Analogical Innovation Enters Language 

Nothing enters language without having been tested in speaking, 
and every evolutionary phenomenon has its roots in the individual. 
This principle, which was stated previously (see p. 98), applies 
particularly to analogical innovations. Before honor could become 
a rival strong enough to replace honos, one speaker had to coin the 
new word, then others had to imitate and repeat it until it forced 
itself into standard usage. 

But not every analogical innovation is so fortunate. Abortive 
combinations that language will probably never adopt are always 
at hand. Children, because they are not well acquainted with 
standard usage and are not yet bound by it, clutter their speech 
with them: in French they say viendre for venir 'come,' mouru for 
mort 'dead,' etc. But adults use them too. For instance, many peo- 
ple say traisait (which, incidentally, is found in the writings of 
Rousseau) instead of tray ait '(he) milked.' All such innovations 
are perfectly regular; they are explained in the same way as those 


that language has accepted; viendre, for example, stems from the 
proportion : 

eteindrai: iteindre = viendrai: x 
X = viendre 

and traisait was formed on the model of plaire 'please': plaisait 
*(he) pleased,' etc. 

Language retains only a minimal part of the creations of speak- 
ing, but those that endure are numerous enough to change com- 
pletely the appearance of its vocabulary and grammar from one 
period to the next. 

From what was said in the preceding chapter, it is evident that 
analogy by itself could not be a force in evolution, and that the 
constant substitution of new forms for old ones is one of the most 
striking features in the transformation of languages. Each time a 
new formation becomes definitely installed and eliminates its rival, 
something is actually created and something else abandoned, with 
the result that analogy occupies a preponderant place in the theory 
of evolution. 

This is the point that I should like to emphasize. 

2. Analogical Innovations as Symptoms of Changes in Interpretation 
Language never stops interpreting and decomposing its units. 
But why does interpretation vary constantly from one generation 
to the next? The cause of change must be sought in the great mass 
of forces that constantly threaten the analysis adopted in a 
particular language-state. I shall recall a few of them. 

The first and most important force is phonetic evolution (see 
Chapter II) . By making some analyses ambiguous and others im- 
possible, phonetic changes affect both the conditions and the 
results of decomposition, thereby shifting the boundaries and 
changing the nature of units (see p. 141 concerning compounds 
like heta-hUs and redo-lich, and p. 155 concerning noun inflection 
in Proto-Indo-European). 

In addition to the phonetic fact there is agglutination (to be 
discussed later), which welds a combination of elements into one 
unit, and every imaginable circumstance which, though external, 


may modify the analysis of words. For it is obvious that analysis, 
because it results from a set of comparisons, depends constantly on 
the associative environment of the term. The Proto-Indo-European 
superlative *swdd-is-to-s contained two independent suffixes, -is-, 
which carried the idea of comparative degree (cf . Latin mag-is) and 
-to~, which designated the definite place of an object in a series (cf, 
Greek trl-to-s 'third'). The two prefixes were agglutinated (cf. 
Greek hed-isto-s, or rather hed-ist-os). But agglutination was in 
turn greatly aided by a fact unrelated to the concept of the su- 
perlative degree: comparatives in is- had dropped out of usage, 
having been supplanted by formations in -jos; since -is- was no 
longer recognized as an independent element, it was no longer 
singled out in -isto-. 

We note in passing the general tendency to shorten the radical 
in favor of the formative element, especially when the former ends 
in a vowel. Thus the Latin suffix -tat- (veri-tdt-em for vero-tdt-em, 
cf. Greek deino-tet-a) took over the i of the theme, giving the 
analysis ver-itdt-em; in the same way Romd-nus, Albd-nus (cf . aenus 
for *aesno-s) became Rom-dnus, etc. 

Changes in interpretation, no matter how they start, always 
become apparent through the existence of analogical forms. Indeed, 
if living units perceived by speakers at a particular moment can by 
themselves give birth to analogical formations, every definite re- 
distribution of units also implies a possible expansion of their use. 
Analogy is therefore proof positive that a formative element exists 
at a given moment as a significant unit. Meridiondlis (Lactantius) 
for merldidlis shows that the division was septentri-ondlis, regi- 
ondlis, and to prove that the suffix -tat had been enlarged by an i 
element borrowed from the radical, we need only cite celer-itdtem; 
pdg-dnus, built on pdg-us, suffices to show how Latin speakers 
analyzed Rom-dnus; and the analysis of redlich (see p. 141) is con- 
firmed by the existence of sterhlich, formed with a verbal root. 

A particularly unusual example will show how analogy works out 
new units from period to period. In Modem French, somnolent 
'sleepy' is analyzed somnol-ent, as if it were a present participle. 
Proof of this is the existence of the verb somnoler 'be sleepy.' But 
in Latin the division was somno-lentus, like succu-lentus, etc., and 


before that it was somn-olentus 'smelling of sleep,' from olere, as in 
vln-olentus 'smelling of wine.' 

The most obvious and important effect of analogy is thus the 
substituting of more regular forms composed of living elements for 
older irregular and obsolescent forms. 

Doubtless things do not always run so smoothly. The functioning 
of language is disturbed by many hesitations, approximations, and 
semianalyses. At no time does an idiom have a perfectly stable 
system of units. From what was said about the inflection of *ekwos 
against *pods, it is obvious that imperfect analyses sometimes lead 
to muddled analogical creations. The Proto-Indo-European forms 
*geus-etai, *gus-tos, *gus-tis allow us to single out the root *geus-, 
gus-. But intervocalic s fell in Greek, and the analysis of geuomai, 
geustos was accordingly beclouded. Fluctuation resulted, and the 
root singled out was sometimes geus-, sometimes geu-. Analogy in 
turn bears witness to this fluctuation, for even roots in eu- take 
final -s (e.g. pneu-, pneuma, and the verbal adjective pneus-tos). 

But analogy influences language even when there is groping and 
hesitation. For analog}'-, though not an evolutionary fact in itself, 
usually reflects the changes that have affected the functioning of 
language and sanctions them through new combinations. It col- 
laborates efficiently with all the forces that constantly modify the 
architecture of an idiom and is in this way a powerful force in 

3. Analogy as a Renovating and Conservative Force 

One is sometimes tempted to ask whether analogy actually has 
the importance attributed to it here and whether its action is as 
far-reaching as that of phonetic changes. As a matter of fact, the 
history of each language discloses a motley accumulation of ana- 
logical facts. Collectively, these continuous reshufflings play an 
even more important part in the evolution of language than do 
sound changes. 

But one thing in particular interests the linguist. In the 
enormous mass of analogical phenomena built up through cen- 
turies of evolution, almost all elements are preserved; they are only 
distributed differently. Analogical innovations are more apparent 


than real. Language is a garment covered with patches cut from 
its own cloth. Four-fifths of French is Proto-Indo-European if we 
think of the substance that constitutes sentences, but the words 
that have been transmitted in their totahty without analogical 
change from the mother language to Modern French would occupy 
less than the space of one page (e.g. est 'is' = *esti, numbers, words 
like ours 'bear,' nez 'nose,' pere 'father,' chien 'dog,' etc.). The vast 
majority of words are, in one way or another, new combinations of 
phonic elements torn from older forms. In this sense analogy, for 
the very reason that it always uses old material for its innovations, 
is remarkably conservative. 

But analogy has an equally important role as a conservative 
force pure and simple. It intervenes not only when old materials 
are redistributed in new units but also when forms remain un- 
changed. To realize this, we need only recall that analogical cre- 
ation and the mechanism of speech have a common basis (see 
p. 165). 

Latin agunt was transmitted almost intact from the prehistoric 
period (when people said *agonti) until the beginning of the Ro- 
mance period. During that span of time successive generations 
used the form over and over without there being a rival form to 
replace it. Here analogy played a part in the retention of the form. 
The stability of agunt is just as much the work of analogy as is any 
innovation. Agunt is integrated in a system; it is supported by 
forms like dicunt and legunt as well as by agimus, agitis, and the 
like. Outside this frame, agunt might easily have been replaced by 
a form made up of new elements. What was transmitted was not 
agunt but ag-unt. The form did not change because ag- and -wn< 
regularly appeared in other series, and the support of these forms 
preserved agunt from start to finish. Compare also sex-tus, which 
is supported by two compact series: sex, sex-aginta, etc. on the one 
hand and quar-tus, quin-tus, etc. on the other. 

Forms are then preserved because they are constantly renewed 
by analogy. A word is apprehended simultaneously as a unit and 
as a syntagm, and is preserved to the extent that its elements do 
not change. Conversely, the existence of the form is threatened 
only to the extent that its elements disappear from usage. Con- 
sider what is happening to French dites '(you) say' and faites '(you) 


do,' which are direct descendants of Latin dic-itis and fac-itis. Be- 
cause they have no support from present-day verbal inflection, 
language is trying to replace them. Disez, faisez (on the pattern of 
plaisez 'please,' lisez 'read,' etc.) are heard today, and the new end- 
ings are already common in most compounds {contredisez 'contra- 
dict,' etc.). 

The only forms left untouched by analogy are of course isolated 
words like proper nouns, especially place names (cf . Paris, Geneva, 
Agen, etc.), which allow no analysis and consequently no interpre- 
tation of their elements. No rival creation springs up beside them. 

It follows that a form may be preserved for either of two dia- 
metrically opposed reasons: complete isolation or complete in- 
tegration in a system that has kept the basic parts of the word 
intact and that always comes to its rescue. It is within the inter- 
mediate group of forms not supported firmly enough by their 
environment that innovating analogy may unfold its effects. 

But whether we deal with the preservation of a form composed 
of several elements or a redistribution of linguistic material in new 
constructions, analogy is there. It always plays an important role. 

Chapter VI 

We sometimes mangle words that have unfamiliar forms and mean- 
ings, and usage sometimes sanctions these deformations. In this 
way Old French coute-pointe (from coute, variant of couette 'cover' 
and pointe, past participle of poindre 'quilt') was changed to coute- 
pointe 'counterpane,' as if formed from the adjective court 'short' 
and the noun pointe 'point.' * Such innovations, no matter how odd 
they may seem, are not due entirely to chance; they are crude at- 
tempts to explain refractory words by relating them to something 

At first blush this phenomenon, called folk etymology, can 
* Cf. Old English scam-faest 'confirmed in shame.' In early Modern English 
this became shame-fast, then shame-faced. [Tr.] 


hardly be distinguished from analogy. When a speaker forgets that 
French surdite 'deafness' exists and coins analogical sourdite,^ the 
result is the same as if he had misunderstood surdiie and deformed 
it through remembrance of the adjective sourd 'deaf; the only 
apparent difference is that analogical constructions are rational 
while folk etymology works somewhat haphazardly and results 
only in absurdities. 

But this difference, which concerns only the results, is not basic. 
Their basic dissimilarity goes much deeper. In order to see what it 
is, let us begin by citing a few examples of the main types of folk 

First come words that receive new interpretations with no cor- 
responding change of form. In German, durchblduen 'thrash 
soundly' goes back etymologically to hliuwan 'flog' but is associated 
with hlau 'blue' because of the "blues" produced by flogging. In 
the Middle Ages German borrowed adventure 'adventure' from 
French and formed regularly dhentiire, Ahenteuer; without defor- 
mation the word was associated with Abend ("a story related in 
the evening") ; the result was that during the eighteenth century 
the word was written Abendteuer. Old French soufraite 'privation' 
(= suffrada from subfrangere) produced the adjective souffreteux 
'sickly,' now associated with souffrir 'suffer,' with which it has 
nothing in common.^ French lais is the noun form of laisser 
'leave' but is associated nowadays with leguer 'bequeath' and 
written legs; some people even pronounce it le-g-s? This might 
suggest that a change of form resulted from the new interpretation, 
but the change actually relates to the influence of the written form 
through which people tried to show their idea of the origin of the 
word without changing its pronunciation. Similarly, French ho- 
mard 'lobster,' borrowed from Old Norse hummor (cf. Danish 
hummer), added a final d through analogy with French words in 
-ard; only here the mistake in interpretation that is marked by 
orthography affects the ending, which was confused with a common 
sufl&x (cf. bavard 'chatterbox,' etc.). 

But people more often deform words in order to adapt them to 

^ Cf. English pronounciation against pronunciation. [Tr.] 
*Cf. English liquorice (from Latin liquiritia), which has only a graphic 
relation to liquor. [Tr.] 

^ Cf. English gooseberry (from French groseiUe). [Tr.] 


the elements which they think they recognize in them. German 
Sauerkraut became choucroute (chou 'cabbage' and croute 'crust') 
in French. In German, dromeddrius became trampeltier 'animal 
that paws' in a new compound which includes existing words, 
trampeln and Tier. Old High German changed Latin margarita to 
mari-greos 'sea-pebble' by combining two known words. 

A last example, especially instructive: Latin carbunculus 'small 
piece of coal' became Karfunkel (through association with funkeln 
'glow') in German and escarhoucle 'carbuncle' (associated with 
boucle 'buckle, ring') in French. Calfeter, calfetrer became calfeutrer 
'chink' in French under the influence oi feutre 'felt.'^ What strikes 
one at the outset is that each of the examples contains, beside an 
intelligible element that occurs in other contexts, one part that 
stands for nothing that has previously existed (Kar-, escar-, col-). 
But it would be a mistake to think that the elements are partly 
creations, that something new appeared as a result of the phe- 
nomenon. The reverse is true: interpretation could not touch the 
parts (Kar-, escar-, cat-). We might say that they are parts of folk 
etymologies that stopped at the half-way point. Karfunkel is in the 
same class as Ahenteuer (if -teuer is considered an unexplained resi- 
due) ; it is also comparable to homard, where horn- makes no sense 
by itself. 

Thus the degree of deformation does not create radical differ- 
ences between words corrupted by folk etymology ; all these words 
are pure and simple interpretations of misunderstood forms in 
terms of known forms. 

Now we see how etymology resembles analogy, yet differs from 

The two phenomena have only one common characteristic : peo- 
ple use significant elements provided by language in both, but the 
two are diametrically opposed in everything else. Analogy always 
implies the forgetting of the older forms ; no analysis of the older 
form il trayait is at the base of the analogical form il traisait (see 
p. 168). The older form must even be forgotten before the rival can 
appear. Analogy takes nothing from the substance of the signs that 
it replaces. Against this, folk etymology is simply an interpretation 
of the older form ; remembrance of the older form, though muddled, 

* Cf. English crayfish, derived from Old French crevice, f Tr.] 


is the starting point of the deformation that it underwent. The 
basis for analysis is remembrance in one instance and forgetfulness 
in the other, and this difference is of prime importance. 

Folk etymology works only under particular conditions, then, 
and affects only rare, technical, or foreign words that speakers 
assimilate imperfectly. But analogy, a universal fact, belongs to 
the normal functioning of language. These two phenomena, so 
similar in some ways, are basically different. They must be care- 
fully separated. 

Chapter VII 

1, Definition 

The importance of analogy was indicated in the last two chap- 
ters. Along with analogy there is another force at work in the pro- 
duction of new units: agglutination. 

Aside from these two, no other formative device amounts to 
much. Onomatopoeia (see p. 69), words formed consciously and 
without recourse to analogy by an individual (e.g. gas), and even 
folk etymology are of little or no importance. 

Agglutination is the welding together of two or more originally 
distinct terms that frequently occur as a syntagm within the sen- 
tence into one unit which is absolute or hard to analyze. Such is the 
agglutinative process. It is a process, not a procedure, for the latter 
word implies wall or intention, and the absence of will is what 
characterizes agglutination. 

Here are some examples. French speakers first said ce ci, using 
two words, then ceci 'this' : a new word was the result even though 
its substance and constituents did not change. Compare also: 
French tous jours 'every day,' toujours 'always,' au jour d'hui 'on 
today's day,' aujoiird'hui 'today,' desjd 'since now,' dejd 'already,' 
vert jus 'green juice,' verjus 'verjuice, sour grapes.' Agglutination 
may also weld together the subunits of a word, as we saw (p. 170) 


in the case of the Proto-Indo-European superlative *swdd-is-to-s 
and the Greek superlative hed-isto-s. 

On closer examination we discern three phases in the phe- 
nomenon of agglutination : 

1) The combining of several terms in a syntagm. The new 
syntagm is like all other syntagms. 

2) Agglutination proper, or the synthesizing of the elements of 
the syntagm into a new unit. Synthesis takes place independently 
through a mechanical tendency; when a compound concept is 
expressed by a succession of very common significant units, the 
mind gives up analysis — it takes a short-cut — and apphes the con- 
cept to the whole cluster of signs, which then become a simple unit. 

3) Every other change necessary to make the old cluster of signs 
more like a simple word: unification of accent (vert-jus — > verjus), 
special phonetic changes, etc. 

It is often claimed that phonetic and accentual changes (3) pre- 
cede conceptual changes (2), and that semantic synthesis is ex- 
plained through agglutination and material synthesis. But this 
probably puts the cart before the horse. It is quite likely that vert 
jus, tous jours, etc. became simple words because they were grasped 
as a single idea. 

2. Agglutination and Analogy 

The contrast between analogy and agglutination is striking: 

1) In agglutination two or more units are blended into one 
through synthesis (e.g. French encore 'still' from hanc horam), or 
two subunits become one (cf. hed-isto-s from *swad-is-to-s) . Against 
this, analogy starts from lesser units and builds them into greater 
units. To create pdg-dnus, analogy united the radical pdg- and the 
suffix -anus. 

2) Agglutination works only in the zone of syntagms. It affects 
only a particular cluster. It embraces nothing else. In contrast, 
analogy calls forth associative series as well as syntagms. 

3) Above all, agglutination is neither wilful nor active. I have 
already said that it is a simple mechanical process in which merger 
takes place spontaneously. Analogy, on the contrary, is a pro- 
cedure that requires analyses and combinations, intelligent action, 
and intention. 


Construction and structure are often used in discussing word for- 
mation, but their meaning differs, depending on whether they are 
apphed to agglutination or to analogy. When applied to aggluti- 
nation, they suggest that the elements in contact in a syntagm 
slowly set, i.e. are sjmthesized to such an extent that their original 
components are wiped out completely. But when applied to 
analogy, construction means the arrangement obtained in one 
swoop, in an act of speaking, by the reuniting of a certain number 
of elements borrowed from different associative series. 

The importance of separating the two formative methods is 
obvious. In Latin, for instance, possum is only the welding to- 
gether of two words, potis and sum 'I am the master' : it is an ag- 
glutinate word. In contrast, signifer, agricola, etc., are products 
of analogy, constructions based on models furnished by the lan- 
guage. Only analogical creations may be named compounds or 
derivatives. '^ 

Often it is difficult to say whether an analyzable form arose 
through agglutination or as an analogical construction. Linguists 
have discussed endlessly the question of the Proto-Indo-European 
forms *es-mi, *es-ti, *ed-mi, etc. Were the elements es-, ed-, etc. real 
words during a very old period, and were they later agglutinated 
with other words (mi, ti, etc.)? Or are *es-mi, *es-ti, etc. the result 
of combinations of elements drawn from other similar complex 
units? In the latter case, agglutination would antedate the for- 
mation of inflectional endings in Proto-Indo-European. In the 

' This amounts to saying that the two phenomena act jointly in the history 
of language. But agglutination always occurs first and is what furnishes 
models for analogy. For instance, the type of compound that gave hippo- 
dromo-s, etc. in Greek started through partial agglutination at a period when 
inflectional endings were unknown in Proto-Indo-European {ekwo dromo was 
then equivalent to a compound like country house) but through analogy be- 
came a productive means of forming new compounds before complete welding 
of its elements occurred. The same is true of the future tense in French (Je 
ferai 'I shall do,' etc.), which arose in Vulgar Latin through agglutination 
of the infinitive with the present tense of the verb habere (facere habed 'I have 
to do'). Through the intervention of analogy, agglutination thus creates 
syntactical types and is grammatical; left alone, it pushes the synthesis of 
elements to the point where the elements become complete units and produces 
only unanalyzable or unproductive words (e.g. hanc horam — > French encore 
'still'), i.e. it is lexicological. [Ed.] 


absence of historical evidence, the question is probably unan- 

Only history can enlighten us. Whenever we can state that a 
simple element was once two or more elements in the sentence, 
we have an agglutinate word : e.g. Latin hunc, which goes back to 
hon ce (ce is attested epigraphically). But when historical informa- 
tion is lacking, it is hard to determine what is due to agglutination 
and what results from analogy. 

Chapter VIII 


Static Unguistics works with units that owe their existence to their 
sjmchronic arrangement. Everything that has just been said proves 
that in a diachronic succession the elements are not delimited once 
and for all as this drawing might suggest : 

Period A 

I '^ , -. Period B 

Rather, the elements are distributed differently from one moment 
to the next by virtue of the events enacted in the theatre of lan- 
guage, with the result that they would be more aptly represented 
by the drawing: 

Period A 

^ Period B 

This is confirmed by all that has been said about the consequences 
of phonetic evolution, analogy, agglutination, etc. 


Almost every example cited up to this point belongs to word- 
formation. Here is one from syntax. Proto-Indo-European had no 
prepositions; the relations that they indicate were expressed by 
numerous cases that had great signaling power. Nor did Proto- 
Indo-European use preverbs in compounding verbs; it used only 
particles — small words added to the sentence in order to pinpoint 
and modify the action of the verb. For instance, there was nothing 
to correspond to Latin ire oh inortem 'to confront death,' or to 
ohire mortem; the form would have been Ire mortem oh. This was 
still the state of Proto-Greek : (1) In oreos baino kdta, oreos haino 
by itself means "I come from the mountain," the genitive having 
the value of the ablative; kdta adds the qualification "by coming 
down." During another period the form was (2) katd oreos haino, 
where katd acts as a preposition, or even (3) kata-haino oreos, 
through the agglutination of the verb and particle, which had 
become a preverb. 

Here are found two or three distinct phenomena, depending on 
the interpretation of the units: (1) A new class of words, prepo- 
sitions, was created simply by shifting existing units. A particular 
arrangement which was originally of no significance and probably 
due to chance, allowed a new grouping: kata, independent at first, 
was united with the substantive oreos, and the whole was joined to 
haino to serve as its complement. (2) A new verbal class (katahaino) 
appeared. This is another psychological grouping, also favored by 
a special distribution of units and consolidated by agglutination. 
(3) As a natural consequence, the meaning of the genitive ending 
(6re-os) was weakened. Then katd had to express the basic idea 
formerly carried by the genitive alone and the importance of the 
ending decreased proportionately. The starting point of the future 
disappearance of -os is in the last phenomenon. 

In all three instances, there was then a new distribution of units. 
The old substance was given new functions. The important thing 
is that no phonetic change intervened to bring about any of the 
shifts. But we must not think that meaning alone was involved 
even though the substance did not change. There is no syntactical 
phenomenon without the uniting of a certain chain of concepts with 
a certain chain of phonic units (see p. 139), and this is the very 


relation that was modified. The sounds remained, but the signi- 
ficant units were no longer the same. 

We saw earlier Cp. 75) that what alters the sign is a shift in the 
relationship between the signifier and the signified. This definition 
applies not only to the alteration of the terms of the system but 
also to the evolution of the system itself. The diachronic phe- 
nomenon in its totality is only that and nothing more. 

But the mere recording of a certain shift of synchronic units is 
by no means a complete report of what has happened in language. 
There is also the problem of the self-contained diachronic unit. 
With respect to every event, we must ask which element has been 
subjected directly to change. We have already met a similar prob- 
lem in dealing with phonetic changes (see p. 94). They affect only 
isolated phonemes, leaving the word-unit untouched. Since dia- 
chronic events are of all kinds, many other such questions would 
have to be answered, and the units delimited in diachrony would 
not necessarily correspond to those delimited in synchrony. Ac- 
cording to the principle laid down in Part One, our concept of the 
unit cannot be the same in both cases. In any event, we cannot ac- 
curately define the unit until we have studied it from both view- 
points, the static and the evolutionary. Until we solve the problem 
of the diachronic unit, we cannot penetrate the outer guise of 
evolution and reach its essence. Understanding units is just as 
important here as in synchrony if we are to separate illusion from 
reality (see p. 110). 

But diachronic identity poses another difficult question. Indeed, 
before I can say that a unit has remained identical or that it has 
changed its form or meaning while continuing to exist as a distinct 
unit — for both possibilities exist — I must know the basis for stating 
that an element taken from one period (e.g. French chaud 'warm') 
is the same as an element taken from another period (e.g. Latin 
calidum) . 

The answer will doubtless be that calidum must have become 
chaud through regular sound changes and that therefore chaud = 
calidum. This is a phonetic identity. The same applies to sevrer 
'wean' and separdre. Fleurir 'flower,' however, is not the same thing 
2i,sfldrere (which would have become *flouroir), etc. 


Diachronic identity seems at first glance to be satisfactorily ac- 
counted for by phonetic correspondence. But it is actually impos- 
sible for sound alone to account for identity. Doubtless it is correct 
to say that Latin mare should appear in French as mer 'sea' because 
every a became e under certain conditions, unstressed final e fell, 
etc. But to say that these correspondences (a -^ e, e — » zero, etc.) 
account for identity is to reverse the facts, for I am using the 
correspondence between mare and mer to decide that a became e, 
that final e fell, etc. 

One speaker may say sefacher 'become angry' while someone who 
lives in another part of France says se focher, but this difference is 
unimportant in comparison with the grammatical facts that allow 
us to recognize one and the same unit of language in these two 
distinct forms. To say that two words as different as calidum and 
chaud constitute a diachronic identity means simply that speakers 
passed from one form to the other through a series of synchronic 
identities in speaking without there being a break in their common 
bond despite successive phonetic changes. That is why I could 
state that knowing how Gentlemen! retains its identity when re- 
peated several times during a lecture is just as interesting as know- 
ing why pas (negation) is identical to pas (noun) in French, or 
again, why chaud is identical to calidum (see p. 107 f.). The second 
problem is really but an extension and a complication of the first. 


1. Subjective and Objective Analysis 

The analysis that speakers constantly make of the units of lan- 
guage is subjective analysis. One must guard against confusing 
subjective analysis with objective analysis, which is based on 
history. In a form like Greek hippos, the grammarian singles out 
three elements: a root, a suffix, and an ending (hipp-o-s). But 
Greek speakers saw only two elements (hipp-os, see p. 155). Ob- 
jective analysis reveals four subunits in amdbds (am-d-bd-s) ; Latin 
speakers recognized only three (amd-bd-s) ; perhaps they even 
thought of -bds as an inflectional whole in opposition to the radical. 
In French entier 'whole' (Latin in-teger 'intact'), enfant 'child' 
(Latin in-fans 'one who does not speak'), and enceinte 'pregnant' 
(Latin in-cincta 'without a girdle'), the historian may single out a 
common prefix en- that stands for Latin privative in-; the sub- 
jective analysis of speakers completely ignores the prefix. 

The grammarian is prone to think that spontaneous analyses of 
language are wrong; the truth is that subjective analysis is no more 
false than "false" analogy (see p. 162 f.). Language never errs; it 
simply takes a different viewpoint. There is no common yardstick 
for both the analysis of speakers and the analysis of the historian 
although both use the same procedure — the confrontation of series 
that have a common element. Both analyses are justifiable, and 
each retains its value. In the last resort, however, only the speak- 
ers' analysis matters, for it is based directly on the facts of lan- 

Historical analysis is but a modified form of subjective analysis. 
Basically, it consists of projecting the constructions of different 
periods on a single plane. It resembles spontaneous analysis in that 
it tries to identify the subunits of words but differs in that it syn- 
thesizes all the divisions made in the course of time with a view to 
reaching the oldest one. The word is like a house in which the 
arrangement and function of different rooms has been changed 
several times. Objective analysis adds up and schematizes the suc- 



cessive arrangements, but for those who Uve in the house there is 
always but one arrangement. The analysis hipp-o-s, which was dis- 
cussed above, is not false, for it was framed in the minds of 
speakers; it is merely "anachronistic"; it goes back to a period 
that preceded the one from which the word is taken. Older hipp-o-s 
does not contradict the hipp-os of Classical Greek, but the two 
analyses cannot be judged in the same way. This again points up 
the radical distinction between diachrony and synchrony. 

And that allows us also to resolve a methodological issue which 
is still pending in linguistics. The old school divided words into 
roots, themes, suffixes, etc. and attached an absolute value to 
these distinctions. One would think, to read Bopp and his disciples, 
that the Greeks had carried with them from time immemorial a 
collection of roots and suffixes which they used in fabricating 
words, and that they took the trouble to manufacture their words 
while speaking, e.g. that pater was to them the root pa + the suffix 
-ter, that doso stood for the sum of do + so + a personal end- 
ing, etc. 

There had to be a reaction against the aberrations of the old 
school, and the appropriate slogan was this : Observe what happens 
in the everyday speech of present-day languages and attribute to 
older periods no process, no phenomenon that is not observable 
today. And since the living language generally does not lend itself 
to analyses like those made by Bopp, the neogrammarians, faithful 
to their principle, declared that roots, themes, suffixes, etc. are 
mere abstractions which should be used solely to facilitate ex- 
position. But unless there is some justification for setting up these 
categories, why bother? And if they are set up, by what authority 
can one division like hipp-o-s, for instance, be declared better than 
another like hipp-os? 

The new school, after pointing out the shortcomings of the 
old doctrine — and this was easy — was satisfied to reject the theory 
but remain fettered in practice to a scientific apparatus that it was 
powerless to discard. When we examine "abstractions" more 
closely, we see what part of reality they actually stand for, and a 
simple corrective measure suffices to give an exact and justifiable 
meaning to the expedients of the grammarian. That is what I have 
tried to do above by showing that objective analysis, which is 


intimately linked to subjective analysis of the living language, has 
a definite and rightful place in linguistic methodology. 

2. Subjective Analysis and the Defining of Subunits 

In analysis, then, we can set up a method and formulate defini- 
tions only after adopting a synchronic viewpoint. That is what 
I wish to show through a few observations about word-parts: 
prefixes, roots, radicals, suffixes, and inflectional endings.^" 

First, the inflectional ending, i.e. the word-final variable element 
that distinguishes the different forms of a noun or verb paradigm. 
In zeugnu-mi, zeugnu-s, zeugnu-si, zeugnu-men, etc. 'I harness,' etc., 
the inflectional endings -mi, -s, -si, etc. stand out simply because 
they are in opposition to each other and to the preceding part of 
the word (zevgnu-). We recall that in Czech the absence of an in- 
flectional ending plays the same role as a regular ending (e.g. the 
genitive plural zen in opposition to nominative singular zena; see 
p. 86 and p. 118). Similarly, Greek zeugnU! '(thou) harness!' 
against zeitgnu-te '(you) harness!' or rhetor! against rhetor-os, etc. 
and French marl!, written marche '(thou) walk!' against mar so! 
'(let's) walk!' are all inflected forms with a zero ending. 

By eliminating the inflectional ending we obtain the inflectional 
theme or radical. This is generally the common element which 
emerges spontaneously when we compare a series of related words, 
whether inflected or not, and which conveys the idea common to 
every word. In the French series roulis 'roll,' rouleau 'rolling-pin,' 
r outage 'roller,' roulement 'rolling,' for instance, the radical roul- 
stands out. But in their analysis, speakers often single out several 
kinds, or rather grades, of radicals in the same family of words. 
Zeugnu-, separated above from zeugnu-mi, zeugnu-s, etc., is a first- 
grade radical. It is not irreducible, for the division zeug-nu is self- 
evident if we compare zeugnu- with other series {zeugnumi, zeuk- 
tos, zeuksis, zeukter, zugon, etc. on the one hand and zeugnUmi, 

1" F. de Saussure did not study the question of compounds — not from the 
synchronic viewpoint at any rate. This part of the problem must therefore 
be set aside. Of course the distinction made above between compounds and 
agglutinate words does not apply here where analysis of a language-state is 
concerned. It is scarcely necessary to point out that this account of subunits 
does not pretend to answer the more difficult question raised above (pp. 105, 
110 f.) concerning the defining of the word-unit. [FA.] 


deiknumi, ornumi, etc. on the other). Zeug- (with its alternate 
forms zeug-, zeuk-, zug-; see p. 160) is therefore a second-grade 
radical. But zeug- is irreducible. To carry its decomposition further 
by comparing related forms is not possible. 

The root is the irreducible element common to all words of the 
same family. But any subjective and synchronic analysis separates 
material elements only by considering the share of meaning that 
matches each element, and the root is in this respect the element 
in which the meaning common to all related words reaches the 
highest degree of abstraction and generality. Naturally, indefinite- 
ness varies from one root to the next, but it also depends somewhat 
on the extent to which the radical is reducible. The more the radical 
is shortened, the greater the likehhood that its meaning will become 
abstract. Thus zeugmdtion suggests a little team, zeugma any team 
whatsoever, and zeug- the indefinite notion of yoking or harnessing. 

It follows that a root cannot constitute a word and have an 
inflectional ending joined directly to it. Indeed, a word always 
stands for a fairly definite idea, at least from a grammatical view- 
point, and this is contrary to the general and abstract nature of the 
root. But what about the numerous roots and inflectional themes 
that apparently mingle? Take Greek phloks, genitive phlogos 
against the root phleg-: phlog- which is found in every word of the 
same family (cf. phleg-o, etc.). Does this not contradict the dis- 
tinction which we have just set up? No, for we must separate 
phleg-: phlog- with a general meaning from phlog- with its special 
meaning or risk considering the material form only to the exclusion 
of meaning. The same material element here has two different 
values. It therefore comprises two distinct linguistic elements 
(see p. 105). Above, it was shown that zeugnu! is a word with an 
inflectional ending of zero. In the same way, phlog- is a theme with 
a zero suffix. No confusion is possible. The radical is distinct from 
the root even when phonetically identical to it. 

The root is then a reality in the mind of speakers. To be sure, 
speakers do not always single it out with equal precision. On this 
point there are differences, either within the same language or 
from one language to another. 

In certain idioms, definite characteristics call the root to the 
attention of speakers. In German, for instance, the root is fairly 


uniform; almost always monosyllabic (cf. streit-, hind-, haft-, etc.), 
it follows certain structural rules; phonemes do not appear hap- 
hazardly; certain word-final combinations of consonants, such as 
occlusive -f- liquid, are ruled out; werk- is possible, wekr- is not; 
we find helf-, werd-, but not hefl-, wedr-. 

We recall that regular alternations, especially between vowels, 
tend generally to strengthen rather than to weaken our feeling for 
roots and subunits. Here also, German with its variable interplay 
of ablauts (see p. 158) differs greatly from French. Semitic roots 
exhibit the same characteristic but in even greater proportions. 
Here the alternations are quite regular and govern a large number 
of complex oppositions (cf. Hebrew qdtal, qtaltem, qtol, qitlu, etc., 
all forms of the same verb meaning 'kill'). In addition, Semitic 
roots have a trait similar to German monosyllabism but even more 
striking. They always include three consonants (see below, 
pp. 230 ff.). 

French is completely different. It has few alternations and, side 
by side with monosyllabic roots (roul-, march-, mang-), many roots 
composed of two or even three syllables {commenc-, hesit-, epou- 
vant-). Besides, these roots contain — chiefly in final position — such 
varied combinations that they cannot be reduced to rules (cf . tu-er 
'kill,' regn-er 'reign,' guid-er 'guide,' grond-er 'growl,' souffl-er 
'blow,' tard-er 'delay,' entr-er 'enter,' hurl-er 'bark,' etc.). That the 
feeling for roots scarcely exists in French should come as no 

The defining of the root has as its counterpart the defining 
of prefixes and suffixes. The prefix goes before the part of the 
word that is recognized as the radical (e.g. hupo- in Greek hupo- 
zeugnwni). The suffix is the element added to the root to make a 
radical (e.g. zeug-mat-) or to a first-grade radical to make a second- 
grade radical (e.g. zeugmat-io-) . We saw above that the suffix, like 
the inflectional ending, may be zero. The extracting of the suffix is 
just one more side to the analysis of the radical. 

The suSix sometimes has a concrete meaning, a semantic value, 
as in zeuk-ter, where -ter- names the agent or performer of an ac- 
tion. At other times the suffix has a mere grammatical function, as 
in zeug-nu (-^mi), where -nu expresses the idea of the present. The 
prefix may also play both roles, but our languages rarely give it a 


grammatical function: e.g. the ge- of German past participles 
{ge-setzt, etc.), the perfective prefixes of Slavic (Russian na-pisdt', 

The prefix also differs from the suffix through a characteristic 
which, though fairly general, is not absolute. The prefix is more 
sharply delimited, for it is easier to separate from the word as a 
whole. This is due to the very nature of the prefix. A complete word 
usually remains after the prefix is removed (cf . French recommencer 
'recommence': commencer 'commence,' indigne 'unworthy': digne 
'worthy,' maladroit 'unskilled' : adroit 'skilled,' contrepoids 'counter- 
weight': poids 'weight,' etc.). Latin, Greek, and German offer even 
more striking examples. Moreover, many prefixes function as inde- 
pendent words: cf. French centre 'against,' mal 'ill,' avant 'before,' 
sur 'on,' German unter, vor, etc., and Greek katd, pro, etc. But the 
suffix is altogether different. The radical element obtained by re- 
moving the suffix is not a complete word : e.g. French organisation 
'organization' : organis-, German Trennung: trenn-, Greek zeugma: 
zeug-, etc.^^ Furthermore, the suffix has no independent existence. 

The result is that the first part of the radical is usually delimited 
beforehand. The speaker knows, before he has made any com- 
parisons with other forms, where to draw the line between the pre- 
fix and what follows. This is not true of the last part of the word. 
There one can draw no boundary without first comparing forms 
that have the same radical or suffix, and the resulting delimitations 
will vary according to the nature of the terms compared. 

Subjectively, suffixes and radicals derive their value solely from 
syntagmatic and associative oppositions. We can usually /ind a 
formative and a radical element in any two opposing parts of a 
word, provided that possible oppositions exist. In Latin diddtorem, 
for instance, we shall see the radical dictdtdr-{em) if we compare it 
with consul-em, ped-em, etc.; dicta-{tdrem) if we compare it with 
lic-torem, scrip-torem, etc.; and dic-{tdtdrem) if we think of po- 
tdtorem, can-tdiorem, etc. Generally, and under favorable circum- 
stances, the speaker may make every imaginable division (e.g. 
dictdt-orem, from am-orem, ard-drem, etc.; dict-dtdrem, from dr- 

" This pattern, though not necessarily applicable to English words derived 
from Germanic sources (teach-er, sad-ly, hope-less), is characteristic of English 
words derived from Romance sources {duch-ess, appari-tion, cap-able). [Tr.] 


dtdrem, ar-dtorem, etc.)- We know that the results of these sponta- 
neous analyses appear in the analogical formations of each period 
(see p. 170). Through them, we can single out the subunits (roots, 
prefixes, suffixes, and endings) which language recognizes and the 
values which it attaches to them. 

3. Etymology 

Etymology is neither a distinct discipline nor a division of evolu- 
tionary linguistics. It is only a special application of the principles 
that relate to synchronic and diachronic facts. It goes back into 
the history of words until it finds something to explain them. 

To speak of the origin of a word and say that it "comes" from 
another word may imply several different things : thus French sel 
comes from Latin sal through a simple sound change; labourer 
'plough' comes from Old French labourer 'work' solely through a 
change in meaning; couver 'brood' comes from Latin cubare 'be in 
bed' through a change in both meaning and sound; finally, the 
statement that French pommier 'apple-tree' comes from pomme 
'apple' brings in the relation of grammatical derivation. The first 
three examples concern diachronic identities; the fourth is based 
on the synchronic relation of several different terms, and every- 
thing that has been said about analogy shows that this relation is 
the most important part of et3Tnological research. 

It is not possible to fix the etymology of bonus merely by going 
back to dvenos. But if bis is found to go back to dvis, implying a 
relation with duo, then the procedure is etymological. The same 
applies to the comparing of French oiseau 'bird' and Latin avi- 
cellus, for comparison reveals the link between oiseau and avis. 

Etjnnology is then mainly the explaining of words through the 
historical study of their relations with other words. To explain 
means to relate to known terms, and in linguistics, to explain a word 
is to relate it to other words, for there are no necessary relations 
between sound and meaning (principle of the arbitrary nature of 
the sign, see p. 67 f.). 

Etymology does not simply explain isolated words and stop 
there. It compiles the history of word families and of families of 
formative elements — prefixes, suffixes, etc. 

Like static and evolutionary linguistics, etymology describes 


facts. But this description is not methodical, for it follows no fixed 
course. In compiling the history of a word, etymology borrows its 
data alternately from phonetics, morphology, semantics, etc. To 
reach its goal, etjnnology uses every means placed at its disposal 
by linguistics, but it is not concerned with the nature of the 
operations that it is obliged to perform. 

Geographical Linguistics 

Chapter I 

As we approach the question of the spatial relations of the lin- 
guistic phenomenon, we leave internal linguistics and enter ex- 
ternal linguistics. The scope of external linguistics was outlined 
in Chapter V of the Introduction. 

The most striking thing about the study of languages is their 
diversity — linguistic differences that appear when we pass from one 
country to another or even from one region to another. Divergences 
in time often escape the observer, but divergences in space im- 
mediately force themselves upon him; even savages grasp them, 
thanks to their contacts with other tribes that speak a different 
language. Indeed, these comparisons are what makes a nation 
aware of its idiom. 

We note in passing that this feeling makes primitive people look 
upon language as a habit or custom like dress or weapons. The term 
idiom rightly designates language as reflecting the traits peculiar 
to a community (Greek idioma had already acquired the meaning 
'special custom'). This notion, though appropriate, becomes mis- 
leading when one goes so far as to see language as an attribute, not 
of the nation, but of race, in the same way as the color of the skin 
or the shape of the head. 

It is also worth noting that each nation believes in the su- 
periority of its own idiom and is quick to regard the man who uses 
a different language as incapable of speaking. For instance, Greek 
hdrbaros apparently meant 'one who stammers' and was related to 
Latin balbus; in Russian, Germans are called Nemtsy 'mutes.' 

Geographical diversity was, then, the first observation made in 
linguistics. It determined the initial form of scientific research in 
language, even among the Greeks. To be sure, the Greeks were 



concerned only with the diversity of the different Hellenic dialects, 
but this was because their interest did not generally go beyond the 
borders of Greece proper. 

Having noticed that two idioms differ, one instinctively looks 
for similarities. This is a natural tendency of speakers. Peasants 
Uke to compare their patois with the one spoken in a neighboring 
village. People who speak several languages notice their common 
traits. But for some strange reason science has waited a long time 
to make use of the results of such observations. For example, the 
Greeks noticed many resemblances between the Latin vocabulary 
and their own but were unable to draw any linguistic conclusions. 

Scientific observation of linguistic similarities proves that two 
or more idioms may be akin, i.e. that they have a common origin. 
A group of related languages makes up a family. Modern linguistics 
has successively identified several families: the Indo-European, 
Semitic, Bantu, ^ etc. Comparing these families with each other, in 
turn, occasionally brings to light older and broader affiliations. 
There have been attempts to find similarities between Finno-Ugric^ 
and Indo-European, between the latter and Semitic, etc., but such 
comparisons always come up against insuperable barriers. One 
must not confuse what is probable with what is demonstrable. The 
universal kinship of languages is not probable, but even if it were 
true — as the Italian linguist Trombetti^ believes — it could not be 
proved because of the excessive number of changes that have 

Beside diversity within related groups, then, there is absolute 
diversity — differences between languages that have no recognizable 
or demonstrable kinship. What method should linguistics use in 
each of these degrees? Let us begin with the second, which is more 
common. As we have just noted, countless languages and families of 

^ Bantu is a group of languages spoken by South African tribes, mainly the 
Kaffirs. [Ed.] 

"^ Finno-Ugric, which includes — among other languages — Finnish proper or 
Suomi, Mordvinian, Lapp, etc., is a family of languages spoken in northern 
Russia and Siberia. Doubtless these languages all go back to a common 
original idiom. The family is a part of the great Ural-Altaic group of languages, 
which have no proven common origin although some traits appear in all of 
them. [Ed.] 

' See his L'unitd, d'origine del linguaggio, Bologna, 1905. [Ed.] 


languages are not related. A good example is Chinese with respect 
to the Indo-European languages. The fact that they differ does not 
mean that they cannot be compared, for comparison is always pos- 
sible and useful; it applies to grammatical organisms and general 
ways of expressing thought as well as to systems of sound ; it also 
includes diachronic facts, the phonetic evolution of two languages, 
etc. The possibilities of comparison, though incalculable, are 
limited by certain constant phonic and psychological data that 
determine the make-up of any language ; reciprocally, the discovery 
of these constant data is always the main aim of any comparison of 
related languages. 

The other class of differences — those that exist within families of 
languages — offers an unlimited field for comparison. Two idioms 
may differ in any degree. They may bear a striking resemblance to 
each other, like Zend and Sanskrit, or be as entirely dissimilar as 
Sanskrit and Gaelic. All intermediate degrees are possible: Greek 
and Latin are more closely related to each other than to Sanskrit, 
etc. Idioms that differ only slightly are called dialects, but this 
word must be used loosely. We shall see that languages and dialects 
differ quantitatively, not by nature (see p. 203). 

Chapter II 


1. Coexistence of Several Languages at the Same Point 

Up to this point geographical diversity has been presented in its 
ideal form: there were as many territories as there were different 
languages. And our method was justifiable, for geographical sepa- 
ration is still the most general force in linguistic diversity. But 
there are secondary facts that disturb the ideal relationship and 
cause several languages to coexist in the same territory. 

Two things we pass over. First is the real, organic mixture or 
interpenetration of two idioms that results in a change in the 


system (cf. English after the Norman Conquest). Second is the 
political accident of several languages clearly separated in space 
but included within the boundaries of the same state, as in Switzer- 
land. The only fact that concerns us is that two idioms can exist 
side by side in the same place without intermingling. This occurs 
frequently, but is of two kinds. 

First, newcomers may superimpose their language on the indig- 
enous language. For instance, in South Africa, two successive 
colonizations introduced Dutch and English, which now exist 
alongside several Negro dialects; in the same way, Spanish was 
implanted in Mexico. Nor are such linguistic encroachments pe- 
cuhar to modern times. Throughout the centuries nations have 
intermingled and still kept their idioms distinct. To realize this fact 
we need only glance at a map of modern Europe: Ireland, with 
Celtic and English; many of the Irish speak both languages. In 
Brittany, French and Breton. In the Basque region, French and 
Spanish as well as Basque. In Finland, Swedish and Finnish have 
coexisted for a rather long time, and Russian has been added more 
recently. In Courland and Livonia, Lettish, German and Russian 
are spoken; German, which was brought in by colonists under the 
auspices of the Hanseatic League during the Middle Ages, belongs 
to a special segment of the population; Russian subsequently 
entered by conquest. Lithuania witnessed the implantation of 
Polish alongside Lithuanian as a consequence of her former union 
with Poland, and of Russian as a result of annexation. Until the 
eighteenth century Slavic and German were used throughout the 
section of Germany that lies to the east of the Elbe. In other 
countries languages are even more entangled: in Macedonia every 
imaginable language is found — Turkish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek, 
Albanian, Rumanian, etc. — and the languages are mixed in 
different ways in different regions. 

Coexisting languages are not always absolutely entangled; there 
may be a certain relative territorial distribution. Of two languages, 
one may be spoken in town and the other in the country, but such 
a distribution is not always clear-cut. 

The story was the same in ancient times. A linguistic map of the 
Roman Empire would show facts like those already described. 
Toward the close of the Republic, for instance, Campania num- 


bered three or four languages: Oscan, attested by the inscriptions 
of Pompeii; Greek, the language of the colonists who founded 
Naples, etc.; Latin; and perhaps even Etruscan, which was the 
dominant language before the arrival of the Romans. In Carthage, 
Punic or Phoenician persisted beside Latin (it still existed during 
the period of the Arab invasion), and Numidian was certainly- 
spoken in Carthaginian territory. One might also suppose that 
during ancient times unilingual countries in the Mediterranean 
Basin were the exception. 

Invasion is the usual cause of superimposition, but it may also 
come through peaceful penetration in the form of colonization. Or 
nomadic tribes may take their dialect with them : that is what the 
Gypsies did, especially those who settled in Hungary, where they 
form compact villages; study of their language shows that they 
must have come from India at some unknown time in the past. In 
Dobruja, at the mouth of the Danube, scattered Tatar villages 
show up Uke tiny specks on the hnguistic map of the region. 

2. Literary Language and Local Idiom 

As a further step, linguistic unity may be destroyed when a 
natural idiom is influenced by a literary language. This never fails 
to happen whenever a nation reaches a certain stage of civilization. 
By literary language I mean not only the language of literature but 
also, in a more general sense, any kind of cultivated language, 
official or otherwise, that serves the whole community. Given free 
reign, a language has only dialects, none of which has the advan- 
tage over the others, and for this reason it habitually splinters. But 
as communications improve with a growing civiUzation, one of the 
existing dialects is chosen by a tacit convention of some sort to be 
the vehicle of everything that affects the nation as a whole. The 
reasons for the choice differ widely. Sometimes preference goes to 
the dialect of the region where civilization is most advanced or to 
the province that has political supremacy and wields the central 
power. Sometimes the court imposes its dialect on the nation. The 
privileged dialect, after it has been promoted to the rank of official 
and standard language, seldom remains the same as it was before. 
It acquires dialectal elements from other regions and becomes more 
and more composite, though without losing completely its original 


character. Thus the dialect of the He de France is clearly recogniz- 
able in literary French and the Toscan in Standard Italian. But the 
literary language is not imposed from one day to the next, and a 
majority of the population is found to be bilingual, speaking both 
the standard language and the local patois. This occurs in many 
parts of France, like Savoy, where French is an imported language 
that has not yet eliminated the regional patois, and generally in 
Germany and Italy, where dialects persist alongside the official 

It has been the same with all nations that have reached a certain 
stage of civihzation. The Greeks had their koine, derived from Attic 
and Ionian, along with coexisting local dialects. Presumably even 
ancient Babylon had its official language and its regional dialects. 

Does a standard language necessarily imply the use of writing? 
The Homeric poems seem to prove that it does not. Even though 
they were composed at a time when writing was used little or not 
at all, their language is conventional and has every characteristic 
of a literary language. 

The facts discussed in this chapter are so common that they 
might pass as normal forces in the history of languages. But to keep 
to our purpose we must turn aside from everything that obscures 
the basic phenomenon of natural geographical diversity and con- 
sider it apart from any importation of a foreign language or any 
formation of a literary language. This schematic simplification 
seems to go against reality, but the natural fact must first be 
studied in itself. 

Consistently with this principle, we shall say that Brussels is 
Germanic since it is in the Flemish part of Belgium ; though French 
is spoken there, what matters is the boundary between the Flemish 
and Walloon territories. Li^ge is Romance for the same reason : it is 
in Walloon territory ; French is a foreign language that happens to 
have been superimposed on a dialect of the same stock. Similarly, 
Brest belongs linguistically to Breton ; the French spoken there has 
nothing in common with the native idiom of Brittany. Berlin, 
where High German is heard almost exclusively, is Low German, 



Chapter III 

1. Time, the Basic Cause 

Whereas absolute diversity poses a purely speculative problem 
(see p. 192 f.), diversity within related languages can be observed 
and traced back to unity. That Vulgar Latin took different paths 
in the northern and southern parts of Gaul explains the common 
origin of French and Proven gal. 

By simplifying the theoretical situation as much as possible, we 
can get at the basic cause of differentiation in space. What would 
happen if a language spoken at one clearly delimited point — e.g. a 
small island — were transported by colonists to another clearly de- 
limited point — e.g. another island? After a certain length of time 
various differences affecting vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation 
and the like would separate the language of the source (S) from the 
language of the settlement (S'). 

It is wrong to imagine that only the transplanted idiom will 
change while the original idiom remains fixed or vice versa. An 
innovation may begin on either side or on both sides at the same 
time. Take a linguistic feature a that can be replaced by h, c, d, etc. 
Differentiation may occur in three different ways : 

a (Source S) 
o (Settlement S') 

A one-sided approach will not do, for the innovations of either 
language are of equal importance. 

What created the differences? It is illusory to think that space 


alone was responsible. By itself, space cannot influence language*. 
On the day following their arrival at S' the colonists from S spoke 
exactly the same language as on the preceding day. It is easy to 
forget about the factor of time because it is less concrete than 
space, but it is actually the cause of linguistic differentiation. 
Geographical diversity should be called temporal diversity. 

Take two differentiating features h and c. No speakers have 
passed from the first to the second or from the second to the first. 
To discover how unity became diversity, we must go back to the 
original a for which b and c were substituted: a gave way to the 
later forms b and c. Hence the following diagram of geographical 
differentiation which will cover all similar cases : 

S S' 

a< — > a 

i I 

b c 

The separation of the two idioms shows the tangible form of the 
phenomenon but does not explain it. Undoubtedly divergence in 
space was a necessary condition — no matter how small the amount 
— but by itseff distance does not create differences. Volume is 
measured, not by one surface, but by adding a third dimension, 
depth, similarly, geographical differentiation is pictured com- 
pletely only when projected in time. 

One objection might be that differences in environment, climate, 
topography, and local customs (e.g. customs of mountaineers con- 
trasted with those of a maritime population) influence language, 
and that our variations are therefore conditioned geographically. 
Such influences are open to dispute, however (see p. 147 f.). Even if 
they could be proved, a further distinction would be in order: 
direction of movement, which is governed in each instance by im- 
ponderable forces that can neither be demonstrated nor described, 
is attributable to environment. At a particular moment and in a 
particular environment u became it. Why did it change at that 
moment and in that place, and why did it become ii instead of of 
That question we cannot answer. But change itself (leaving out the 
special direction it takes and its particular manifestations) — in 



short, the instability of language — stems from time alone. Geo- 
graphical diversity is then a secondary side of the general phe- 
nomenon. The unity of related languages is found only in time. 
Unless the comparative linguist thoroughly assimilates this princi- 
ple, he is likely to delude himself. 

2. Effect of Time on Continuous Territory 

Now take a unilingual country, i.e. one with a uniform language 
and a stable population, hke Gaul around 450 a.d., when Latin 
was well established everywhere. What will happen? 

(1) Since there is no such thing as absolute immobility in speech 
(see pp. 75 ff.), the language will no longer be the same after a 
certain length of time. 

(2) Evolution will not be uniform throughout the territory but 
will vary from zone to zone ; no records indicate that any language 
has ever changed in the same way throughout its territory. There- 
fore, it is not the diagram : 

but the diagram : 

that gives the true picture. 

How do differences that result in the most varied dialectal forms 
originate? What pattern does their evolution follow? Differentia- 
tion through time, which is not so simple as it seems at first, has 
two main characteristics: 



(1) Evolution takes the form of successive and precise inno- 
vations that include as many partial facts as could be enumerated, 
described, and classified according to their nature (phonetic, lexico- 
logical, morphological, syntactical, etc.). 

(2) Each innovation embraces a definite and delimited area. 
There are two possibilities: either the area of the innovation em- 
braces the whole territory and creates no dialectal differences (the 
less usual possibility) , or the change affects only a part of the ter- 
ritory, each dialectal fact having its special zone (the more common 
occurrence). We can illustrate with phonetic changes, but other 
innovations are the same. For instance, while part of a territory 
may witness the change of a to e: 

it is possible that on the same territory but within other limits, 
another change, such as s to z;, will occur: 

and the existence of these distinct areas explains the diversity of 
regional speech-forms throughout the territory of a language that 
is allowed to evolve naturally. There is no way to foresee these 
zones; nothing points to which way they will spread; all we can do 
is record them. Laid on a map, with their boundaries crossing and 
recrossing each other, they form extremely complicated patterns. 
At times their configuration is paradoxical. Thus c and g changed 
before a to th, dz, then h, z (cf. cantum —^ chant 'song,' virga — » verge 
'rod') throughout northern France except in Picardy and part of 
Normandy, where c and g remained intact (cf . Picard cat for chat 


'cat,' rescape for rechappe, which was recently adopted by French,* 
vergue from virga, cited above, etc.)- 

What is the result of differentiation through time? At one 
moment in history a single language may reign throughout a 
particular territory, and five or ten centuries later the inhabitants 
of two of its extremes probably vnW not be able to understand each 
other. At any particular point, however, speakers will still under- 
stand the speech-forms of neighboring regions. A traveler going 
from one end of the country to the other would notice only small 
dialectal differences from one locality to the next. But the sum of 
these differences would increase, and eventually he would come to 
a language that the inhabitants of this starting point would not 
understand. Or if, starting from a given point in the territory, he 
traveled outward, now in one direction, now in another, he would 
find the sum of these differences increasing in each direction, but 
with one sum differing from the other. 

Peculiarities found in the dialects of one village will reappear in 
neighboring localities, but there is nothing to show exactly how far 
each peculiarity will reach. For instance, in Douvaine, a locality in 
the department of Upper-Savoy, the name of Geneva is pro- 
nounced '^enva. This pronunciation is heard far to the east and to 
the south, but on the other side of Lake Geneva speakers say 
dzenva. Still, it is not a question of two clearly distinct dialects, for 
the boundaries of some other phenomenon would be different. In 
Douvaine, speakers say daue for deux 'two,' but this pronunciation 
has a much more restricted zone than '6enva. At the foot of the 
Sal^ve, a few kilometers away, speakers say due. 

3. Dialects Have No Natural Boundaries 

The current practice, which differs from ours, is to picture dia- 
lects as perfectly defined linguistic types, bounded in all directions 
and covering distinct zones placed side by side on a map (a, b, c, d, 
etc.). But natural dialectal transformations produce entirely differ- 
ent results. As soon as we studied each phenomenon separately and 
determined its spread, our old notion had to give way to the new 
one: there are only natural dialectal features, not natural dialects; 
in other words, there are as many dialects as there are localities. 

* See page 156. [Tr.] 


r-M' ^ V--H 

The notion of natural dialects is therefore incompatible with the 
notion of fixed well-defined zones. This leaves us with two choices: 
(1) we may define a dialect by the totality of its characteristics — 
which involves choosing one point on the map and encompassing 
only the regional speech-forms of a single locality since the same 
peculiarities will not extend beyond this point ; or (2) we may define 
a dialect by one of its characteristics, and simply map the spread 
of this characteristic — which obviously is an artificial procedure 
since the boundaries that we mark off correspond to no dialectal 

Research in dialectal characteristics was the point of departure 
for works on linguistic cartography. The model linguistic atlas is 
GiUi^ron's Atlas linguistique de la France. Wenker's map of Ger- 
many should also be mentioned.^ The form of the atlas is predeter- 
mined, for we have to study a country region by region, and a map 
includes only a small number of the dialectal characteristics of 
each region. One must sift the facts for each region many times to 
bring to light the phonetic, lexicological, morphological, etc. peculi- 
arities that are superimposed on each other. Such an undertaking 
requires a staff of experts, well-planned questionnaires, the co- 
operation of local correspondents, etc. One noteworthy project is 
the investigation of the patois of French-speaking Switzerland. 
Linguistic atlases are useful in that they furnish material for works 
on dialectology. Many recent monographs are based on Gillieron's 

The boundaries of dialectal characteristics have been called 
isogloss lines or isoglosses. This name, coined on the model of 
isotherme, is obscure and inappropriate, for it means 'having the 
same language.' Since glosseme means 'idiomatic character,' the 

* Cf. also Weigand, Linguistischer Atlas des dakorumdnischen Gebiets (1909) 
and Millardet, Petit atlas linguistique d'une region des Landes (1910). [S.] 


expression isoglossematic lines, if practical, would be more ap- 
propriate. But I prefer to use innovating waves, a descriptive ex- 
pression that goes back to J. Schmidt. Chapter III will show the 
reasons for my preference. 

A glance at a linguistic atlas will sometimes reveal two or three 
waves that almost coincide or even overlap in one zone : 

,'• — ir-'C-,. 

The two points A and B, which are separated by such a zone, ob- 
viously have some divergencies and constitute two rather clearly 
differentiated forms of speech. These concordances, instead of 
being partial, may characterize the whole perimeter of two or more 


♦>.*x t 'J 

A dialect is defined, roughly speaking, by a sufficient accumulation 
of such concordances. Their foundations are social, political, re- 
ligious, etc., matters which do not concern us at the moment but 
which veil, without ever erasing completely, the basic and natural 
fact of differentiation from zone to zone. 

4. Languages Have No Natural Boundaries 

Precisely how a language differs from a dialect is hard to specify. 
Often a dialect is called a language because it has produced a 
Uterature. This is true of Portuguese and Dutch. Intelligibility also 
plays a part; everyone would agree that people who do not under- 


stand each other speak different languages. Still, languages that 
have evolved over continuous territory and among stable popu- 
lations exhibit, on a broader scale, the same facts as dialects. 
Innovating waves appear here too, but with this difference: they 
embrace a zone common to several languages. 

It is impossible, even in our hypothetical examples, to set up 
boundaries between dialects. The same applies to related lan- 
guages. The size of the territory makes no difference. We would be 
unable to say w^here High German begins and Low German ends, 
and would find it just as impossible to draw the dividing line be- 
tween German and Dutch, or between French and Italian. There 
are extreme points where we may assert, "Here French predomi- 
nates, here Italian," but in the intermediate regions the distinction 
would disappear. We might imagine a compact, more restricted 
zone of transition between two languages — e.g. Frovengal between 
French and Italian — but such a zone simply does not exist. How 
can we possibly depict an exact linguistic boundary on territory 
that is covered from one end to the other by gradually differ- 
entiated dialects? The dividing lines between languages, hke those 
between dialects, are hidden in transitions. Just as dialects are only 
arbitrary subdivisions of the total surface of language, so the 
boundary that is supposed to separate two languages is only a 
conventional one. 

Still, abrupt transitions from one language to another are com- 
mon, due to circumstances that have destroyed imperceptible tran- 
sitions. The most disrupting force is the shifting of populations. 
Nations have always shuttled back and forth. Their migrations, 
multiplied throughout the centuries, have wrought confusion 
everywhere, and at many points all trace of linguistic transition 
has been wiped out. The Indo-European family is typical. At first 
its languages must have been closely related, with an unbroken 
chain of linguistic zones. We can reconstruct the broad outlines of 
the major zones. Slavic shares overlapping characteristics with 
both Iranian and Germanic, and this conforms with the geographi- 
cal distribution of the three languages; similarly, Germanic is an 
intermediate ring that links Slavic and Celtic, which in turn is 
closely related to Italic ; the latter is mid-way between Celtic and 
Greek. Thus a Unguist, without knowing its geographical location, 


could readily assign each idiom to its proper place. And yet, as soon 
as we consider a boundary between two groups of idioms (e.g. 
the Germanic-Slavic boundary), there is an abrupt break, with no 
transition. The two groups colUde instead of overlapping. That is 
because the intermediate dialects have disappeared. Neither the 
Slavs nor the Germans were stationary; they emigrated, conquered 
territory, each at the expense of the other ; the neighboring Slavic 
and Germanic populations of today are not the same as those that 
were once in contact. If the Italians who live in Calabria settled on 
the French border, the move would naturally destroy the im- 
perceptible transition between Italian and French. A number of 
similar facts accounts for the distribution of Proto-Indo-European. 
Still other forces help to wipe out transitions. Take the spreading 
of standard languages at the expense of patois (see pp. 195 ff.). To- 
day literary French (formerly the language of the He de France) 
extends to the border, where it conflicts with official Italian (a 
generalized form of the Tuscan dialect), and it is only through 
chance that traditional patois still exist in the western Alps, for 
along many other linguistic boundaries all trace of intermediate 
speech-forms has been wiped out. 

Chapter IV 

1. Intercourse^ and Provincialism 

The laws that govern the spread of linguistic phenomena are the 
same as those that govern any custom whatsoever, e.g. fashion. In 
every human collectivity two forces are always working simul- 
taneously and in opposing directions: individualism or provincial- 
ism [esprit de clocher] on the one hand and intercourse — communi- 
cations among men — on the other. 

Provincialism keeps a restricted linguistic community faithful 
to its own traditions. The patterns that the individual acquires 

* In his lectures Saussure used the English word intercourse. [Tr.] 


during childhood are strong and persistent. If they alone were at 
work, these patterns would create an infinite number of peculi- 
arities in speech. 

But intercourse, the opposing force, limits their effect. Whereas 
provincialism makes men sedentary, intercourse obliges them to 
move about. Intercourse brings passers-by from other localities 
into a village, displaces a part of the population whenever there is 
a festival or fair, unites men from different provinces in the army, 
etc. In a word, it is a unif3ang force that counteracts the splintering 
action of provincialism. 

Intercourse spreads language and gives it unity. It acts in two 
ways: negatively, it prevents dialectal splintering by wiping out 
an innovation whenever and wherever it springs up ; positively, it 
promotes unity by adopting and spreading an innovation. The 
second form that intercourse may take justifies the use of the word 
wave to designate the geographical boundaries of a dialectal fact 
(see p. 203), for an isoglossematic line is like the outermost edge 
of an undulating flood. 

Surprisingly enough, we sometimes find that two widely sepa- 
rated dialects within the same language have a common linguistic 
trait. That is because the change which sprang up at one place on 
the territory met no obstacle in spreading and gradually extended 
far beyond its starting point. Nothing impedes the action of inter- 
course in a linguistic mass within which there are only imper- 
ceptible transitions. 

The generahzing of a particular fact — regardless of the size of 
its zone — requires time, and occasionally the time is measurable. 
Thus the change of ]) to d, which intercourse carried throughout 
continental Germany, first spread over the south, between 800 and 
850 A.D., except for Franconia where ]) persisted as soft 6 and did 
not give way to d until a later date. The change of t to German z 
(pronounced ts) took place within more restricted boundaries and 
began during a period that preceded the first written documents; 
it must have started in the Alps around 600 a.d. and spread both 
north and south as far as Lombardy. The t still appears in an 
eighth-century Thuringian charter. During a later period Germanic 
I and u were diphthongized (cf . mein for mln, braun for hriln) ; it 
took 300 years for this phenomenon, which began in Bohemia 


around 1400 a.d., to reach the Rhine and cover its present zone. 

The foregoing Hnguistic facts spread through interdialectal 
influence, and the same is probably true of all waves: they start 
from one point and radiate. This brings us to a second important 

German consonantal mutation is again illustrative. When the 
phoneme t became ts at one point in Germanic territory, the new 
sound tended to radiate from its source, and ts became the rival of 
the original t or of other sounds that might have evolved from it 
at other points. At its source such an innovation is purely phonetic, 
but elsewhere it becomes estabhshed only geographically and 
through interdialectal influence. Hence the diagram : 



is valid in all its simphcity for the source and no more. If we try 
to apply it to propagation, the resulting picture is distorted. 

The phonetician must therefore distinguish carefully between 
sources and affected zones. At its source a phoneme evolves solely 
on the axis of time. But mere phonetic facts will not explain 
affected zones, for they result from the interaction of both time 
and space. Take ts, which came from an outside source and replaced 
t. This is an example, not of modification of a traditional prototype, 
but of imitation of a neighboring dialect, irrespective of the proto- 
type. Herza 'heart' came from the Alps and replaced the more 
archaic form herta in Thuringia. Here we should not speak of 
phonetic change but of the borrowing of a phoneme. 

2. The Two Forces Reduced to One 

If we focus on a single geographical point — by "point" I mean 
a very small area comparable to a point (see p. 202), e.g. a village — 
it is easy to single out what is attributable to each of the two 
forces, provincialism and intercourse. Any particular fact depends 
on only one force, never on both; every feature shared with another 
dialect is due to intercourse ; every feature that belongs exclusively 
to the dialect of the point under consideration is due to pro- 


But as soon as we turn to a larger area — e.g. a canton — a new 
difficulty arises. No longer is it possible to say which force is re- 
sponsible for a given phenomenon. Both forces, though in oppo- 
sition, are involved in each trait of the idiom. What is distinctive 
of canton A is common to all its parts. There, the individualistic 
force prohibits canton A from imitating something from canton B 
and the latter in turn from imitating A. But the unifying force, 
intercourse, is also involved, for it shows up in the different parts 
of A (A\ A^, A^, etc.). On larger areas the two forces therefore work 
simultaneously but in different proportions. The more intercourse 
favors an innovation, the farther its zone will reach; as for pro- 
vincialism, it tends to protect a linguistic fact throughout its zone 
by defending it against outside competitors. We cannot foresee the 
final results of the action of the two forces. In Germanic territory, 
which reached from the Alps to the North Sea, the change from ]> 
to d was general while the change from t to is affected only the 
south (see p. 206) ; provincialism created an opposition between 
the south and the north, but intercourse was responsible for lin- 
guistic solidarity within each region. Thus there is basically no 
difference between this second phenomenon and the first. The same 
forces are present; only the intensity of their action varies. 

Practically, this means that in studying linguistic evolutions we 
can disregard the individualistic force. That is, we can consider it 
as the negative side of the unifying force. The latter may be strong 
enough to unify the whole area. If not, the phenomenon will come 
to a standstill after covering only a part of the territory. Internally, 
however, the part that was covered will form a coherent whole. 
That is why we can reduce everything to the single unifying force 
without bringing in provincialism, which is nothing more than the 
force of intercourse peculiar to each region. 

3. Linguistic Differentiation on Separate Territories 

Three things must be realized before one can study profitably a 
language that develops concurrently on two separate territories: 
(1) in a unilingual mass cohesiveness is not the same for all phe- 
nomena; (2) not all innovations spread; and (3) geographical con- 
tinuity does not prevent perpetual differentiations. 

Such concurrent development is common. When Germanic 


crossed over from the continent to the British Isles, for example, 
there began a twofold evolution. On the one hand were the German 
dialects and on the other Anglo-Saxon, from which English 
evolved. Another example is French after it was transplanted to 
Canada. Discontinuity is not always the effect of colonization or 
conquest; it may also result from isolation. Rumanian lost contact 
with the Latin mass through the interposition of Slavic popu- 
lations. The cause is unimportant ; what matters is whether sepa- 
ration plays a role in the history of languages and whether its 
effects differ from those that appear where there is continuity. 

Earlier, in order to point up the preponderant effect of time, we 
imagined an idiom as it might develop concurrently on two rather 
limited points — two small islands, in our example — where we might 
disregard a gradual spread. Now, however, with two territories 
that cover a broader area, we find once more that a gradual spread 
brings about dialectal differences. That the two territories are dis- 
continuous does not simplify the problem in the least. We must 
guard against attributing to separation something that can be 
explained without it. 

This is the mistake that the earliest Indo-European scholars 
made (see p. 2). Confronted with a great family of languages that 
had diverged enormously, they failed to realize that the differences 
could have resulted from something besides geographical splinter- 
ing. It was easy for them — and for anyone — to imagine different 
languages in separate localities; in a superficial view no more was 
needed to explain differentiation. But they went further. They 
associated nationality with language, using the first to explain the 
second. Thus they pictured the Slavs, Germans, Celts, etc. as so 
many swarms of bees from the same hive and imagined that these 
tribes, torn away from the original stock by migration, had carried 
Proto-Indo-European over as many different territories. 

Only much later was this mistake corrected. Not until 1877 did 
Johannes Schmidt open the eyes of linguists by proposing the 
theory of continuity or waves (Wellentheorie) in his book Die Ver- 
wandtschaftsverhdltnisse der Indogermanen. Then they saw that 
local splintering suffices to explain the reciprocal relations of the 
Indo-European languages, and that it is not necessary to assume 
that the different nations moved to new places (see p. 204). Dia- 


lectal differentiations could and must have arisen before these 
nations spread out in various directions. The wave theory there- 
fore not only gives a truer picture of Proto-Indo-European ; it also 
reveals the causes of differentiation and the conditions that de- 
termine the kinship of languages. 

The wave theory opposes the migratory theory but does not 
necessarily exclude it. In the history of the Indo-European lan- 
guages there are many examples of nations that lost contact with 
the main family through migration, and this must have produced 
special effects. But these effects mingle with those of differentiation 
where contact is maintained, and the difficulty of identifying them 
brings us back to the problem of the evolution of an idiom in sepa- 
rate territories. 

Take Old EngUsh. It broke away from the Germanic trunk as a 
result of migration. In all probabihty it would not have its present 
form if the Saxons had stayed on the continent during the fifth 
century. But what were the specific effects of separation? It would 
seem that we should first ask whether such and such a change 
might not have sprung up just as well where geographical contact 
was maintained. If the English had occupied Jutland instead of 
the British Isles, it is possible that some of the facts attributed to 
absolute separation would have occurred here in a contiguous 
territory. There is nothing to prove that discontinuity is what 
enabled English to preserve older ]? while the sound became d 
throughout the continent (e.g. English thing and German Ding). 
Nor was geographical continuity necessarily responsible for the 
generalizing of the change in continental Germanic ; it might very 
well have been checked in spite of continuity. The mistake is the 
usual one of contrasting isolated and continuous dialects. Nothing 
actually proves that interdialectal influence would have caused d 
to spread throughout our imaginary English colony in Jutland. We 
have seen that in the linguistic territory of French, for example, 
k {-\- a) persisted in the angle formed by Picardy and Normandy 
but became hushing h (ch) everywhere else. Isolation is therefore 
an unsatisfactory and superficial explanation. Differentiation can 
always be explained without it. What isolation can do, geo- 
graphical continuity does equally well. If there is a difference 
between the two classes of phenomena, we cannot grasp it. 


But the picture changes when we consider two related idioms 
not from the negative viewpoint of their differences but from the 
positive viewpoint of their sohdarity. Then we see that separation 
immediately opens the door to potential severance of every relation 
whereas geographical continuity supports solidarity even among 
strikingly different regional speech-forms, provided they are 
connected by intermediate dialects. 

In order to determine degrees of kinship among languages, we 
must therefore make a rigid distinction between continuity and 
isolation. Two isolated languages will retain from their common 
heritage a number of traits that attest their kinship, but since each 
language will evolve independently, new characteristics that 
appear in one will not be found in the other (with the exception of 
certain characteristics that originate after separation and are 
identical in the two languages through sheer coincidence). What 
is ruled out in each instance is the spreading of these charac- 
teristics through interdialectal influence. A language that has 
evolved out of touch with related languages generally has a set of 
traits that distinguish it from them. When this language splinters 
in turn, its dialects evidence a closer kinship through the common 
traits that bind them together and set them apart from dialects of 
the other territory. They actually form a distinct branch, detached 
from the trunk. 

Vastly different are the relations of languages on continuous 
territory. Their common traits are not necessarily older than the 
traits that differentiate them. Indeed, an innovation that starts at 
a given point may spread at any moment and even embrace the 
whole territory. Besides, innovating zones vary in extent, so that 
two neighboring idioms may have a common peculiarity without 
forming a separate group, and each may be related to contiguous 
idioms through other traits, as is shown by the Indo-European 


Concerning Retrospective 

Chapter I 


Synchronic linguistics has only the perspective of speakers and, 
consequently, only one method; diachronic linguistics, however, 
requires both a prospective and a retrospective viewpoint (see 
p. 90). 

The prospective method, which corresponds to the actual course 
of events, is the one we must use in developing any point concern- 
ing the history of a language or of languages. It consists simply of 
examining the available documents. But all too many problems of 
diachronic linguistics cannot be met by the prospective method. 

In fact, in order to give a detailed history of a language by fol- 
lowing its course in time, one would need an infinite number of 
photographs, taken at different times. Now this requirement has 
never been met. Romance scholars, for instance, even though they 
have the advantage of knowing Latin, the point of departure for 
their research, and of possessing an imposing array of documents 
covering several successive centuries, are constantly aware of wide 
gaps in their documentation. They must then discard the pro- 
spective method — direct evidence — and work in the opposite 
direction, using the retrospective method to retrace time. This 
means choosing a particular period and trying to determine, not 
how a form developed, but the oldest form that could have given 
it birth. 

The prospective method amounts to simple narration and is 
based entirely on textual criticism, but the retrospective viewpomt 
requires a reconstructive method supported by comparison. It is 



impossible to establish the original form of a single, isolated sign, 
but the comparing of two different signs that have the same origin 
(e.g. Latin pater, Sanskrit pilar- or the radical of Latin ger-o and 
that of ges-tus) immediately brings to hght the diachronic unity 
which relates both signs to a prototype that can be reconstructed 
inductively. The more numerous the comparisons, the more accu- 
rate inductions will be, and the results — if sufficient data are at 
hand — will be true reconstructions. 

The same applies to languages in their totality. We can infer 
nothing about Basque ; because it is isolated, there is nothing with 
which we can compare it. But by comparing a group of related lan- 
guages like Greek, Latin, Old Slavic, etc., scholars were able to 
single out the common original elements and to reconstruct the 
essentials of Proto-Indo-European as it existed before differenti- 
ation in space occurred. What was done for the whole family on a 
large scale was repeated on a smaller scale — and always by the 
same procedure — for each of its parts wherever this was necessary 
and possible. We know numerous Germanic idioms directly, 
through documents, but we know Proto-Germanic — the source of 
these different idioms — only indirectly, through the reconstructive 
method. Using the same method with varying success, linguists 
have also sought the original unity of other families (see p. 192). 

The retrospective method, then, takes us far beyond the oldest 
documents in tracing the history of a language. Thus it was pos- 
sible to draw the prospective outline of Latin, whose history hardly 
begins before the third or fourth century B.C., only after the re- 
construction of Proto-Indo-European had given an inkling of what 
must have happened between the period of original unity and the 
first known Latin documents. 

With respect to reconstruction, evolutionary linguistics is like 
geology, another historical science. Geology sometimes has to 
describe stable states (e.g. the present state of Lake Geneva Basin) 
without considering what might have preceded in time, but its 
main concern is the chain of events and transformations that make 
up diachronics. A prospective geology is conceivable, but in reality 
the viewpoint is usually only retrospective. Before recounting 
what has occurred at a given point on the earth, the geologist must 


reconstruct the chain of events and try to determine what is 
responsible for the present state of that part of the globe. 

Not only in method do the two perspectives contrast sharply; 
in teaching, even, to use them simultaneously in the same expo- 
sition is a disadvantage. The study of phonetic changes, for in- 
stance, offers two very different pictures, depending on the 
perspective. Using the prospective viewpoint, we might ask what 
Classical Latin e became in French. We would see that a single 
sound, by evolving in time, varied and gave rise to several pho- 
nemes: cf. pedem -^ pye (pied 'foot'), ventum — ^ vd (vent 'wind'), 
lectum -^ li (lit 'bed'), necdre -^ nwaye (noyer 'drown'), etc. 
Against that, if we used the retrospective viewpoint to find what 
French open e stands for in Latin, we would see that this single 
sound is the terminal point of several originally distinct phonemes : 
cf. ter (terre 'earth') = terram, verz (verge 'rod') = virgam, fe (fait 
'fact') = factum, etc. We could present the evolution of formative 
elements in two ways, and the two pictures would be just as differ- 
ent; everything that was said about analogical formations (see 
pp. 169 ff.) is a priori proof. Thus the (retrospective) search for the 
origin of the suffix of French participles in -e takes us back to Latin 
-dtum; the Latin suffix is related etymologically to denominative 
Latin verbs in -are, which go back mainly to feminine substantives 
in -a (cf. plantdre: planta, Greek tlmad: tlma, etc.); furthermore, 
-dtum would not exist if the Proto-Indo-European suffix -to- had 
not been living and productive in its own right (cf. Greek klu-to-s, 
Latin in-clu-tu-s, Sanskrit gru-ta-s, etc.) ; finally, -dtum includes the 
formative element -m of the accusative singular (see p. 154). 
Conversely, a (prospective) search for the French formations that 
have the original suffix -to- will reveal that there are not only 
the different sufl&xes — whether productive or not — of the past 
participle (aime 'loved' = amdtum, Jini 'ended' = finltum, clos 
'closed' = clausum for *claudtum, etc.), but also many others like 
-u = -utum (cf. cornu 'horned' = cornutum), -tif (learned suffix) 
= Latin -tivum (cf . fugitif = fugitivum, sensitif, negatif, etc.) and 
a number of words no longer analyzable, like point 'dot' = Latin 
punctum, de 'die' = datum, chetif 'wretched' = captlvum, etc. 


Chapter II 


In the earliest stages of Indo-European linguistics scholars under- 
stood neither the real purpose of comparison nor the importance 
of the reconstructive method (see p. 3). That explains one of 
their grossest mistakes: the exaggerated and almost exclusive role 
that they gave to Sanskrit. Because it was the oldest document of 
Proto-Indo-European, they promoted Sanskrit to the rank of 
prototype. To imagine that Proto-Indo-European engendered 
Sanskrit, Greek, Slavic, Celtic, Italic, etc. is one thing; to sub- 
stitute one of these languages for Proto-Indo-European is some- 
thing else entirely. The glaring mistake of the earliest scholars had 
varied and far-reaching consequences. Doubtless their hypothesis 
was not stated so categorically as I have implied, but it was tacitly 
accepted in practice. Bopp wrote that he "did not think that 
Sanskrit could be the common source," as if there were a possibility 
of formulating, even while expressing doubt, such a supposition. 
This prompts one to ask what is meant by the statement that 
one language is older than another. Three interpretations are 
theoretically possible : 

(1) "Older" may refer to the beginning, the starting point of a 
language. But only a little reasoning will show that there is no 
language to which we can assign an age, for each language is the 
continuation of what was spoken before it. What is true of hu- 
manity is not true of speech ; the absolute continuity of its develop- 
ment prevents us from distinguishing generations in it. Gaston 
Paris was justified in criticizing the conception of daughter lan- 
guages and mother languages since this assumes interruptions. 
"Older," in this sense, is meaningless. 

(2) "Older" may also indicate that one particular state of a 
language we are studying is earlier than another state of the same 
language. Thus the Persian of the Achaemenian inscriptions is 


older than the Persian of Firdausi. In a specific case Uke this, where 
one idiom has definitely developed from the other and where both 
are equally well known, we should of course reckon only with the 
earlier idiom. But unless both conditions are met, priority in time 
has no importance. Thus Lithuanian, which is attested only since 
1540, is no less valuable than Old Slavic, which was recorded in the 
tenth century, or than the Sanskrit of the Rig Veda for that 

(3) Finally, "older" may designate a more archaic language- 
state, i.e. one with forms that are very close to the forms of the 
original model, quite apart from any question of dates. In this 
sense sixteenth-century Lithuanian is older than the Latin of the 
third century B.C. 

Only in the second or third sense is Sanskrit older than other 
languages. It fits both definitions. On one hand, it is generally 
agreed that the Vedic hymns antedate the oldest Greek texts; on 
the other hand — and this is especially important — Sanskrit has a 
considerable number of archaic features in comparison with those 
preserved by other languages (see pp. 2 ff.). 

But the earliest linguists, because of their confused notion of age, 
put Sanskrit ahead of the whole family. The result was that later 
linguists, though cured of the notion that Sanskrit is the mother 
language, continued to attribute too much importance to the 
evidence that it furnishes as a collateral language. 

In Les Origines indo-europeennes (see p. 224) A. Pictet, while 
explicitly recognizing the existence of a primitive nation with its 
own language, still insists that we must first consult Sanskrit, and 
that the evidence which this language furnishes is worth more than 
that of several other Indo-European languages combined. The 
same delusion has for many years obscured issues of primary 
importance, such as that of the Proto-Indo-European vocaUsm. 

The mistake has been repeated on a smaller scale and in detail. 
Those who studied specific branches of Indo-European thought 
that the earliest known idiom was a complete and satisfactory 
representative of the whole group and did not try to become better 
acquainted with the original state. For example, instead of speak- 
ing of Germanic, they had no scruples about citing Gothic and 
stopping there, for Gothic antedates the other Germanic dialects 


by several centuries ; it usurped the role of prototype and became 
the source of the other dialects. As regards Slavic, they based their 
research exclusively on Slavonic or Old Slavic, which is attested 
from the tenth century, because the other Slavic dialects are 
attested from a later date. 

Only on very rare occasions do two specimens of language that 
have been set down in writing at successive dates represent exactly 
the same idiom at two moments in its history. More often we find 
that one of the dialects is not the linguistic successor of the other. 
Exceptions prove the rule. The most famous exception is the 
Romance languages with respect to Latin : in tracing French back 
to Latin, one certainly follows a vertical route; the territory of the 
Romance languages happens to match the territory where Latin 
was spoken, and each idiom is no more than a later state of Latin. 
Persian is another exception to the rule; the Persian of the in- 
scriptions of Darius is the same dialect as the Persian of the Middle 
Ages. But the opposite occurs much more frequently. The written 
documents of different periods generally belong to different dia- 
lects of the same family. Germanic, for instance, appears succes- 
sively in the Gothic of Ulfilas (its successor is unknown), then in 
Old High German texts, later in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse texts, 
etc. None of these dialects or groups of dialects is the continuation 
of the one attested previously. The following diagram, in which 
letters stand for dialects and dotted lines for successive periods, 
suggests the usual pattern : 

A . . . . Period 1 

B Period 2 

..C D Periods 

E.. Period 4 

This pattern is a valuable asset to linguistics. If succession were 
vertical, the first known dialect (A) would contain everything that 
we could deduce by analyzing successive states. But by searching 
for the point of convergence of all the dialects (A, B, C, D, etc.) in 
the pattern, we may find a form older than A (i.e. a prototype X) 
and thus avoid confusing A and X. 


Chapter III 

1. Their Nature and Aim 

The sole means of reconstructing is by comparing, and the only 
aim of comparison is a reconstruction. Our procedure is sterile 
unless we view the relations of several forms from the perspective 
of time and succeed in re-establishing a single form. I have re- 
peatedly emphasized this point (see pp. 3 ff. and p. 198 f.). Thus 
we explain Latin medius against Greek mesos, without going back 
to Proto-Indo-European, by positing an older form *methyos as the 
source of both medius and mesos. Or we may compare two forms of 
the same language rather than two words of different languages: 
Latin gero and gestus go back to a radical *ges- that was once 
common to both forms. 

We note in passing that comparisons having to do with phonetic 
changes must always rely heavily on morphological considerations. 
In examining Latin patior and passus, I bring in f actus, dictus, etc. 
because passus is a formation of the same class. By basing my con- 
clusion on the morphological relation between facio and factus, 
died and dictus, etc., I can set up, for an earlier period, the same 
relation between patior and *pat-tus. Reciprocally, I must use 
phonetics to throw light on a morphological comparison. I can 
compare Latin meliorem with Greek hedio because the first form 
goes back phonetically to *meliosem, *meliosm, and the second to 
*hadioa, *hddiosa, *hddiosm. 

Linguistic comparison is not simply a mechanical operation. It 
implies the bringing together of all relevant data. But it must 
always result in a conjecture which we can express by some formula 
and which aims to re-establish something that has preceded; it 
always results in a reconstruction of forms. 

But is the aim of viewing the past to reconstruct the whole, 
concrete forms of the previous state? Or is reconstruction limited 


to abstract, partial affirmations about word-parts (e.g. to the ob- 
servation that Latin / in fumus stands for Proto-Itahc ]), or that 
the initial element of Greek alio and Latin aliud already existed as 
a in Proto-Indo-European) ? Reconstruction may well confine itself 
to the second type of research; its analytical method has no aim 
other than these partial observations. Still, from the sum of isolated 
facts, we can draw general conclusions. A series of facts similar to 
those pertainmg to fumus allows us to state with certainty that \> 
had a place in the phonological system of Proto-Italic ; similarly, 
we can state that the pronominal declension of Proto-Indo-Euro- 
pean has a neuter singular ending -d, different from the -m of 
adjectives. We deduce this general morphological fact from a set 
of isolated observations (cf. Latin istud, aliud against honum; 
Greek to = *tod, alio = *allod against kalon; English that, etc.). 
We can go even further. It is possible, after we have reconstructed 
the different facts, to synthesize those relating to the whole form 
and to reconstruct whole words (e.g. Proto-Indo-European *alyod), 
inflectional paradigms, etc. Synthesis consists of drawing together 
completely isolated statements. For example, when we compare 
the different parts of a reconstructed form like *alyod, we notice a 
great difference between the -d, which raises a point of grammar, 
and a-, which has no grammatical significance. A reconstructed 
form is not a solidary whole. It is a sum that we can always analyze 
phonetically. Each of its parts is revocable and subject to further 
examination. Therefore, restored forms have always been a faithful 
reflection of the general conclusions applicable to them. The Proto- 
Indo-European word for 'horse' was successively posited as *akvas, 
*akivas, *ekivos, and finally *ekiWos; only a and the number of 
phonemes have remained undisputed. 

The aim of reconstruction is, then, not to restore a form for its 
own sake — this would be rather ridiculous to say the least — but to 
crystallize and condense a set of conclusions that seem logically to 
follow from the results obtained at each moment; in short, its aim 
is to record the progress of our science. No one has to defend lin- 
guists against the rather absurd charge of intending to restore 
Proto-Indo-European completely as if they wished to use it. They 
do not have this objective even in studying the languages that are 
historically attested (one does not study Latin linguistically in 


order to speak it well). There is even less justification for it in the 
case of individual words of prehistoric languages. 

Reconstruction, though always subject to revision, is necessary 
for an overall view of the language studied and of its linguistic type. 
It is an indispensable instrument for depicting with relative ease 
a great number of general facts, both synchronic and diachronic. 
The whole set of reconstructions immediately illuminates the broad 
outlines of Proto-Indo-European. For instance, we know that suf- 
fixes were formed from certain elements (t, s, r, etc.) to the exclu- 
sion of others, and that the complicated variety of the vocahsm 
of German verbs (cf. werden, wirst, ward, wurde, worden) obscures 
the rules governing one and the same original alternation : e-o-zero. 
The result is that reconstruction is a great help in studying the 
history of later periods, for without reconstruction it would be 
much more difficult to explain the changes that have occurred 
since the prehistoric period. 

2. Relative Accuracy of Reconstructions 

We are absolutely certain of some reconstructed forms, but 
others are either open to dispute or frankly problematical. We have 
just seen that the accuracy of whole forms depends on the relative 
accuracy that we can attribute to the partial restorations that go 
into the synthesis. On this score two words are almost never 
identical. Between Proto-Indo-European forms as illuminating as 
*esti 'he is' and *diddti 'he gives,' there is a difference, for the re- 
duplicated vowel of the second form gives room for doubt (cf. 
Sanskrit dadati and Greek didosi). 

There is a general tendency to consider reconstructions less 
accurate than they actually are. Three facts should fortify our 

The first fact, which is of capital importance, was mentioned 
earlier (see pp. 39 jEf.). We can distinguish clearly the sounds of a 
particular word, their number, and their delimitation. We have 
also seen (p. 54) how we should regard the objections that certain 
linguists squinting into the phonological microscope might raise. 
In a sequence Hke ~sn- there are doubtless furtive or transitional 
sounds, but to give weight to them is antilinguistic ; the average 
ear does not single them out, and — even more important — speakers 


always agree on the number of elements in such a sequence. We can 
therefore state that the Proto-Indo-European form *ekiwos had 
only five distinct, differential elements to which speakers had to 
pay heed. 

The second fact has to do with the system of the phonological 
elements of each language. Any language operates with a clearly 
delimited gamut of phonemes (see p. 34). The least frequent ele- 
ments of the Proto-Indo-European system appear in no fewer than 
a dozen forms — and the most frequent in a thousand — all attested 
through reconstruction. With this we are sure of knowing them all. 

Finally, we do not have to delineate the positive qualities of the 
phonic units in order to know them. We must consider them as 
differential entities that are characterized by their being distinct 
(see p. 119). This is so basic that we could designate the phonic 
elements of an idiom that is to be reconstructed by numbers or by 
any signs whatsoever. There is no need for determining the abso- 
lute quality of e in *ekiwds or for puzzling over whether e was open 
or closed, just how far forward it was articulated, etc. All this is 
unimportant unless several types of e have been identified. The 
important thing is that we do not confuse it with another element 
singled out by language (a, o, e, etc.). This is another way of saying 
that the first phoneme of *ekiw6s does not differ from the second of 
*medhyds, the third of *dge, etc., and that without specifying its 
phonic nature, we could catalogue it and assign it a number in the 
table of Proto-Indo-European phonemes. The reconstructed form 
*ekiw6s means therefore that the Proto-Indo-European equivalent 
of Latin equos, Sanskrit agva-s, etc. was composed of five definite 
phonemes taken from the phonological gamut of the original idiom. 

Within the limitations just outlmed, reconstructions do retain 
their full value. 


Chapter IV 


1. Language and Race 

Thanks to his retrospective method, the Hnguist can go back 
through the centuries and reconstruct languages that were spoken 
by certain nations long before their written history began. But 
might not reconstructions also provide information about the 
nations themselves — their race, filiation, social relations, customs, 
institutions, etc.? In short, does language provide some answers to 
questions that arise in the study of anthropology, ethnography, 
and prehistory? Many people think so, but I believe this is largely 
an illusion. Let us examine briefly some parts of the general 

First, race. It would be wrong to assume that a common lan- 
guage implies consanguinity, that a family of languages matches 
an anthropological family. The facts are not so simple. There is, 
for instance, a Germanic race with distinct anthropological charac- 
teristics: blond hair, elongated cranium, high stature, etc.; the 
Scandinavian is its most perfect example. Still, not all populations 
who speak Germanic languages fit this description; thus the Ger- 
man from the foot of the Alps differs strikingly from the Scandi- 
navian. Might we at least assume, however, that an idiom belongs 
exclusively to one race, and that if nations belonging to other races 
use the idiom, this is only because it has been imposed upon them 
through conquest? No doubt nations often adopt or are forced to 
submit to the language of their conquerors (e.g. the Gauls after the 
victory of the Romans) , but this does not explain everything. For 
instance, even if they had subjugated so many different popu- 
lations, the Germanic tribes could not have absorbed all of them; 
we would have to imagine a long period of preliistoric domination 
and still other unsubstantiated circumstances. 


Consanguinity and linguistic community apparently have no 
necessary connection, and we cannot draw conclusions from one 
and apply them to the other; consequently, in the numerous in- 
stances where anthropological and linguistic evidence do not agree, 
it is not necessary to set the two types of evidence in opposition or 
to choose between them ; each type retains its own value. 

2. Ethnic Unity 

What can we learn from the evidence furnished by language? 
Racial unity alone, a secondary force, is in no way necessary for 
linguistic community. But there is another type of unity — the only 
crucial type — which is of infinitely greater importance and which 
is constituted by the social bond: ethnic unity [ethnisme]. By this 
I mean a unity based on the multiple relations of religion, civili- 
zation, common defense, etc., which spring up even among nations 
of different races and in the absence of any political bond. 

Between ethnic unity and language is established the mutual 
relation mentioned earlier (see p. 20). The social bond tends to 
create linguistic community and probably imposes certain traits 
on the common idiom; conversely, linguistic community is to some 
extent responsible for ethnic unity. In general, ethnic unity always 
suffices to explain linguistic community. For example, in the early 
Middle Ages a Romance ethnic unity, in the absence of any 
political bond, linked nations of the most varied origins. Re- 
ciprocally, on the question of ethnic unity, we must first consult 
language. The information that it provides takes precedence over 
everything else. Here is one example. In ancient Italy the Etrus- 
cans Hved alongside the Latins. If we try to determine what the 
two nations had in common in the hope of tracing them back to the 
same origin, we can call up everything that they transmitted 
(monuments, reUgious rites, political institutions, etc.) and still 
lack the assurance that language provides immediately. Four lines 
of Etruscan are enough to show that the speakers of this language 
belong to a nation distinct from the ethnic group that spoke Latin. 

Thus language — within the limitations indicated — is a historical 
document. That the Indo-European languages form a family, for 
example, is proof of a primitive ethnic unity that has been trans- 


mitted more or less directly through social filiation to every nation 
that speaks one of these languages today. 

3. Linguistic Paleontology 

Linguistic unity may allow us to predicate social community, 
but does language reveal the nature of this common ethnic unity? 

For a long time languages were considered an inexhaustible 
source of documents concerning the nations that spoke them and 
their prehistory. Adolphe Pictet, a pioneer of Celtism, is known 
especially for his book Les Origines indo-europeennes (1859-63). 
His work has served as a model for many others; it is still the most 
engaging of all. Pictet looks to the Indo-European languages for 
data that will reveal the fundamental traits of the civilization of 
the "Aryans" and beUeves that he can fix the most varied details: 
material things (tools, weapons, domesticated animals), social life 
(whether they were a nomadic or an agricultural nation) , family, 
government, etc. He seeks to identify the cradle of the Aryans, 
which he places in Bactriana, and studies the flora and fauna of the 
country that they inhabited. His is the most important under- 
taking of its type. The science that he founded is called linguistic 

Other efforts in the same direction have since been made. One of 
the more recent is Hermann Hirt's Die Indogermanen (1905-1907) .^ 
Basing his research on the theory of J. Schmidt (see p. 209), Hirt 
tries to identify the country inhabited by the Indo-Europeans. But 
he does not slight linguistic paleontology. Lexical facts show him 
that the Indo-Europeans were farmers, and he refuses to place 
them in southern Russia, which is better suited to nomadic life. The 
frequency of occurrence of names of trees, especially of certain 
kinds (fir, birch, beech, oak), makes him think that their country 
was wooded, and that it was located between the Harz Mountains 
and the Vistula, more specifically in the region of Brandenburg and 
Berlin. We should also recall that even before Pictet, Adalbert 

1 Cf. also d'Arbois de Jubainville, Les premiers habitants de V Europe (1877); 
O. Schrader, Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichie and Reallexicon der indoger- 
manischen A Iterturnskunde (works that appeared a little earlier than the volume 
by Hirt); and S. Feist, Europa im lAchte der Vorgeschichte (1910). [Ed.] 


Kuhn and others had used linguistics to reconstruct the mythology 
and religion of the Indo-Europeans. 

Now we cannot expect language to furnish such information for 
the following reasons : 

First is the uncertainty of etymology. Scholars have at last 
realized how rare are words with well-established origins, and have 
become more cautious. Here is an example of the rashness that once 
prevailed. Given servus and servare, scholars compared the two — 
they probably had no right to do this — and by giving the first word 
the meaning "guardian," they were able to conclude that a slave 
was originally used in the sense of "to guard." Nor is that all. The 
meanings of words evolve. The meaning of a word often changes 
whenever a tribe changes its place of abode. Scholars were also 
wrong in assuming that the absence of a word proves that the 
primitive society knew nothing of the thing that the word names. 
Thus the word for "to plow" is not found in the Asiatic languages, 
but this does not mean that in the beginning plowing was un- 
known; it might just as well have been discarded or conducted by 
other procedures known by different names. 

The possibility of loan-words is a third cause of uncertainty. 
An object that is borrowed may bring its name along with it. For 
instance, hemp came into the Mediterranean world at a very late 
date, and into the countries to the north even later; each time, the 
name for hemp came with the plant. In many instances the absence 
of extralinguistic data does not allow us to ascertain whether the 
presence of the same word in several languages is due to borrowing 
or is proof of a common original tradition. 

The foregoing limitations do not preclude our distinguishing 
with no hesitation some general traits and even certain precise 
data. For example, common terms indicating kinship are abundant 
and have been transmitted very clearly. They allow us to state that 
among the Indo-Europeans the family was a complex and stable 
institution, for their language could express subtleties that ours 
cannot. In Homer, eindteres means "sisters-in-law" with reference 
to the wives of several brothers, and galooi denotes the relation- 
ship between the wife and the sister of the husband. Latin 
janitrlces corresponds to eindteres in form and in signification. 


Similarly, "brother-in-law" (the husband of the sister) is not 
named by the same word as "brothers-in-law" (denoting the rela- 
tionship among the husbands of several sisters). Here we can 
identify a minute detail, but usually we must be satisfied with 
general information. The same applies to animals. For important 
species like the bovine we can rely on the coincidence of Greek 
bous, German Kuh, Sanskrit gau-s, etc. and reconstruct the Proto- 
Indo-European form *g20U-s; besides, the inflection of the word 
has the same features in each language, and this would be impos- 
sible if it had been borrowed from another language at a later date. 

Here we might consider another morphological fact that has the 
dual characteristic of being limited to a definite zone and of touch- 
ing upon a point of social organization. 

In spite of everything that has been said about the relation of 
dominus and domus, linguists do not seem to be completely satis- 
fied, for the use of the suffix -no- in forming secondary derivatives 
is most extraordinary. There are no formations Uke *oiko-no-s or 
*oike-no-s from oikos in Greek, or *agva-na from agva- in Sanskrit. 
But this very rarity gives the suffix of dominus its value and 
prominence. Several Germanic words are, I think, quite revealing : 

(1) *\)eu'6a-na-z 'head of the *\)eu'6d, king,' Gothic \)iudans, 
Old Saxon ihiodan {*\)eu'6d, Gothic \)iuda — Oscan touto 'people'). 

(2) *drux-ti-na-z (partially changed to *drux-ti-na-z) 'head of 
the *drux-ti-z, army' (whence the Christian name for the Master, 
i.e. God), cf. Old Norse Drottinn, Anglo-Saxon Dryhten, both with 
final -ina-z. 

(3) *kindi-na-z 'head of the *kindi-z = Latin gens.^ Since the 
head of the gens was a vice-ruler with respect to the head of a 
*)}ewtSo, the Germanic word kindins (completely lost elsewhere) is 
used by ULfilas to name the Roman governor for, in his Germanic 
way of thinking, the delegate of the emperor was the head of the 
clan with respect to the Ipiudans; however interesting the associ- 
ation may be from a historical viewpoint, there is no doubt that 
the word kindins, which is wholly unlike everything Roman, 
indicates a division of the Germanic populations into kindi-z. 

Thus the secondary suffix -na-, when added to any Proto- 
Germanic theme, means 'head of a certain community.' All that 
remains now is to observe that in the same way Latin tribunus 


literally means 'head of the tribus,' that \>iudans means 'head of 
the ]>iuda,' and finally, that dominus means 'head of the domus,' 
the last division of the touta = piuda. Dominus, with its singular 
suffix, seems to me to offer almost irrefutable proof not only of 
linguistic community but also of a community of institutions 
among the Italic and German ethnic groups. 

But again it is worth noting that comparisons between languages 
rarely yield such characteristic indices. 

4. Linguistic Type and Mind of the Social Group 

Does language, even if it fails to supply much precise and 
authentic information about the institutions of speakers, serve at 
least to characterize the mind of the social group that speaks it? 
A popular notion is that a language reflects the psychology of a 
nation. But one serious objection opposes this viewpoint: psycho- 
logical causes do not necessarily underlie linguistic procedures. 

The Semitic languages express the relation of a substantival de- 
terminant to its noun (cf. French la parole de Dieu 'the word of 
God') by simple juxtaposition. To be sure, the noun that is de- 
termined has a special form, called "construct state," and precedes 
the determinant. Take Hebrew dabar 'word' and ^elolilm} 'God': 
dabar 'elohim means 'the word of God.' Should we say that such a 
syntactical pattern reveals something about the Semitic mind? 
That would be a rash assertion, for Old French regularly used a 
similar construction: cf. le cor Roland 'Roland's horn,' les quatrc fils 
Aymon 'Aymon's four sons,' etc. Now the procedure arose in 
• Romance through sheer chance, morphological as well as phonetic : 
a sharp reduction of cases forced the new construction on the lan- 
guage. It is entirely possible that a similar accident started Proto- 
Semitic on the same route. Thus a syntactical fact that is appar- 
ently one of its indelible traits gives no accurate clue to the Semitic 

Another example : Proto-Indo-European had no compounds with 
a word-initial verbal element. That German has such compounds 
(cf. Bethaus, Springhrunnen, etc.) does not prove that at a given 
moment the Germans modified a way of thinking inherited from 

2 The symbol ['] designates the alef or glottal stop that corresponds to soft 
breathing in Greek. [S.] 


their ancestors. We have seen (p. 195) that the innovation was due 
to an accident which was not only material but also negative, the 
eUmination of the a in betahus. Everything occurred outside the 
mind and in the realm of sound changes, which readily impose a 
tight yoke on thought and force it into the special way that the ma- 
terial state of signs opens to it. A great number of similar observa- 
tions confirms this conclusion. The psychological character of the 
linguistic group is unimportant by comparison with the elimination 
of a vowel, a change of accent, or many other similar things that 
may at any moment revolutionize the relation between the sign 
and the idea in any language form whatsoever. 

It is always of interest to determine the grammatical character 
of languages (whether historically attested or reconstructed) and 
to classify languages according to the procedures that they use for 
expressing thought. But even after we become acquainted with the 
structures of languages and classify them, we can draw no accurate 
conclusions outside the domain of linguistics proper. 

Chapter V 


We have just seen that language is not controlled directly by the 
mind of speakers. Let me emphasize, in concluding, one of the 
consequences of this principle: no family of languages rightly 
belongs once and for all to a particular linguistic type. 

To ask the type to which a group of languages belongs is to for- 
get that languages evolve; the implication is that there is an 
element of stability in evolution. How is it possible to impose 
limitations on an activity that has none? 

Of course many people really have in mind the traits of the 
original idiom when they speak of the characteristics of a family; 

^ This chapter, though it does not deal with retrospective linguistics, is in- 
cluded in Part Five because it serves as a conclusion for the whole work. [Ed.] 


their problem is not insoluble since they are dealing with one 
language and one period. But when we assume that there are per- 
manent traits which neither time nor space can change in any way, 
we clash head-on with the fundamental principles of evolutionary 
linguistics. No characteristic has a right to permanent existence; 
it persists only through sheer luck. 

Take the Indo-European family. We know the distinctive traits 
of the language from which it derives. The sound system of Proto- 
Indo-European is very simple. There are no complicated clusters 
of consonants or double consonants, and its monotone system 
gives rise to an interplay of extremely regular and profoundly 
grammatical alternations (see p. 157 and p. 220) ; the tonic accent 
can in principle be placed on any syllable in a word and therefore 
has a role in the interplay of grammatical oppositions ; quantitative 
rhythm is based solely on the opposition of long and short syllables; 
compounds and derivatives are easily formed ; nominal and verbal 
inflections are numerous; and the inflected word with its self- 
contained determiners is independent in the sentence, allowing 
much freedom of construction and greatly restricting the number 
of grammatical words with determinative or relational value 
(preverbs, prepositions, etc.). 

Now it is clear that none of the foregoing traits has been retained 
in its original form in the different Indo-European languages, and 
that several of them (e.g. the role of quantitative rhythm and of 
tonic accent) no longer appear m any member of the group. Some 
languages have even changed the features of Proto-Indo-European 
to such an extent that they suggest an entu-ely different linguistic 
type (e.g. English, Armenian, Irish, etc.). 

It would be more fitting to speak of certain transformations that 
affect different languages belonging to the same family. For in- 
stance, progressive weakening of the inflectional mechanism is 
characteristic of the Indo-European languages, although they all 
offer striking differences. Slavic has put up the strongest resistance 
while EngUsh has reduced inflection almost to zero. To offset this, a 
rather stable word-order has developed, analytical processes of 
expression have tended to replace synthetic processes, prepositions 
express case values (see p. 180), auxiliaries have taken the place of 
compound verbal forms, etc. 


We have seen that a trait of the prototype may not appear in 
some of the derived languages. The reverse is equally true. It is not 
unusual even to find that the common traits of all the representa- 
tives of a family do not appear in the original idiom. This is true of 
vocalic harmony (i.e. similarity of some type between the timbre 
of every suffixed vowel and the last vowel of the radical). This 
salient trait is found in Ural-Altaic (a large group of languages 
spoken in Europe and Asia and extending from Finland to Man- 
churia) but is probably due to later developments. Vocalic har- 
mony is then a common trait but not an original one ; consequently 
we cannot invoke it — any more than agglutination — to prove the 
common origin (highly debatable) of these languages. We also 
know that Chinese has not always been monosyllabic. 

The thing that first strikes us, when we compare the Semitic 
languages with their reconstructed prototype, is the persistence of 
certain traits. The Semitic languages seem, more than any other 
family, to constitute a type, unchangeable and permanent, with 
traits of the family inherent in each language. The following traits, 
many of which contrast sharply with those of Proto-Indo-Euro- 
pean, set Proto-Semitic apart. Compounds are practically non- 
existent. Derivation plays only a small part. The mflectional 
system is poorly developed (better in Proto-Semitic, however, than 
in the daughter languages) , with the result that strict rules govern 
word-order. The most notable trait has to do with the structure of 
the root (see p. 187). It regularly includes three consonants (e.g. 
q-t-l 'kill') which are retained in every form within a given language 
(cf. Hebrew qaial, qdtld, qtol, qitll, etc.), and which do not change 
from one language to another (cf. Arabic qatala, qutila, etc.). In 
other words, consonants express the "concrete sense" or lexical 
value of words while vowels — with the help of certain prefixes and 
suffixes, of course — have the exclusive role of indicating gram- 
matical values through the interplay of their alternations (e.g. 
Hebrew qatal 'he killed,' qtol 'to kill'; with a suffix, qtdl-u 'they 
killed' ; with a prefix, ji-qtol 'he will kill' ; and with both, ji-qtl-u 
'they will kill,' etc.). 

Against the foregomg facts, and in spite of the statements that 
they have elicited, we must defend our principle : there are no un- 


changeable characteristics. Permanence results from sheer luck; 
any characteristic that is preserved in time may also disappear with 
time. But to come back to Semitic. We see that the "law" of the 
three consonants is not really characteristic of the Semitic family 
since analogous phenomena appear in other families. In Proto- 
Indo-European, rigid laws also govern the consonantal structure 
of roots. For example, two sounds of the series i, u, r, I, m, n never 
follow e; a root like *serl is impossible. The functioning of Semitic 
vowels is even more instructive. Indo-European has an equally 
rigid but less rich set of vowels; oppositions like Hebrew dabar 
'word,' dbdr-im 'words,' dibre-hem 'their words,' etc. recall German 
Gast: Gdste, fiiessen: floss, etc. In both instances the genesis of the 
grammatical procedure is the same. Mere phonetic modifications, 
which are due to blind evolution, result in alternations. The mind 
seizes upon the alternations, attaches grammatical values to them, 
and spreads them, using the analogical models which chance 
phonetic developments provide. The immutability of the three con- 
sonants in Semitic is only a general rule, not a hard-and-fast one. 
We could be sure of this a priori, but our view is confirmed by the 
facts. In Hebrew, for example, the root ^ands-im 'men' has the 
three expected consonants, but its singular 'is has only two, for 
this is the reduced form of the older form that contained three 
consonants. Even if we agree that Semitic roots are quasi-immuta- 
ble, this does not mean that they have an inherent characteristic. 
It means simply that the Semitic languages have suffered fewer 
phonetic alterations than many others, and that consonants have 
been better preserved in this group of languages than elsewhere. We 
are dealing with something evolutionary and phonetic, not some- 
thing grammatical or permanent. To proclaim the immutability of 
roots is to say that they have undergone no phonetic change, 
nothing more, and we cannot vow that changes will never occur. 
Generally speaking, everything that time has done, time can undo 
or change. 

We now realize that Schleicher was wrong in looking upon lan- 
guage as an organic thing with its own law of evolution, but we 
continue, without suspecting it, to try to make language organic 
in another sense by assuming that the "genius" of a race or ethnic 


group tends constantly to lead language along certain fixed routes. 
From the incursions we have made into the borderlands of our 
science, one lesson stands out. It is wholly negative, but is all the 
more interesting because it agrees with the fundamental idea of 
this course: the true and unique object of linguistics is language 
studied in and for itself. 



Ablaut, 158 f.; 160 

Accent, 86, 58 

Agglutination, definition of — , 176; 
three phases in — , 177; — con- 
trasted with analogy, 177 f.; — 
always precedes analogy, 179 note 

Alphabet, see Writing; borrowed — , 
28; Greek — , 27, 39 

Alteration of the sign, 74 f ., linguis- 
tic — is always partial, 84, 87 

Alteration, 157 ; definition, 158 f . ; 
laws of — , 158; — is synchronic 
and grammatical, 159; — tightens 
the grammatical bond, 160 f . 

Analogy, 161-173; its importance, 
171 ; — counteracts phonetic 
changes, 161 ; — as a proportion, 
161, 165, 167; — and formative 
elements, 162, 170; mistakes con- 
cerning — , 162 f.; — is creation 
and not change, 163 f . ; its mecha- 
nism, 163 ; — is grammatical, 165 ; 

— originates in speaking, 165, 168 ; 
two theories of — , 166 f.; — as 
a force in evolution, 169, 171 f.; 

— indicates changes in interpreta- 
tion, 169 f . ; — as a conservative 
force, 172 f.; — contrasted with 
folk etymology, 173 f.; — con- 
trasted with agglutination, 177 f . 

Analysis, objective — , 183 f.; sub- 
jective — , 183 f.; — and the de- 
fining of subunits, 185 f . 

Anthropology and linguistics, 6, 222. 

Aperture, basis for classifying 
sounds, 44 f. ; — and opening and 
closing sounds, 52 

Aphasia, 10 f . 

Apparatus, vocal — , 41 f . 

Arbitrary nature of the sign, defini- 
tion, 67 f.; — and the immutabil- 
ity of language, 72 f.; — and al- 
teration, 74 f . ; absolute and rela- 
tive arbitrariness, 131 f.; — and 

phonetic change, 151, 161; — and 
analogy, 166 

Articulation and auditory impres- 
sion, 8; two meanings of — , 10, 
113; diversity of oral — , 42 f.; 
value of oral — in classifying 
sounds, 44; sistants or holds, 52 
and note; muscular image of — , 

Aspects of the verb, 117 

Associative faculty, 13 

Atlas, linguistic — , 202 

Aufrecht, 3 

Beats, homogeneous — of the 

spoken chain, 38 
Benfey, 3 
Berthelot, 25 

Bopp, 2, 3, 24, 82, 184, 215 
Boundary, syllabic — , 57 
Braune, 5 
Broca, 10 
Brugmann, 5 

Cartography, linguistic — , 202 

Cavity, oral — , 41 ; nasal — , 42. 

Chain, phonic (or spoken) — , 38 f.; 
49 f.; 51 f. 

Changes in language, originate in 
speaking, 18, 98; — are always 
partial, 84 f.; 87 

Changes, morphological — , 93; 
semantic — , 93; syntactical — 93 

Changes, phonetic — , 143-161 ; — 
are unrelated to the system of lan- 
guage, 18 f.; — affect sounds, not 
words, 93; their regularity, 143; 
absolute and conditioned, spon- 
taneous and combinatory — , 
144 f.; see Phonetics 

Chess, compared with the system of 
language, 22 f ., 88, 110 

Children, role of — in phonetic 
evolution, 149 




Climate and linguistic changes, 

147 f., 198 
Community of speakers, 78 
Comparison of unrelated languages, 

192 — ; of related languages, 4, 

199, 218 
Comparative philology, mistakes of 

the school of — 3 f ., 24 f ., 163, 184, 

209 f., 215 
Compounds, products of analogy, 

178 and note; Germanic — , 141 f., 

227 f . ; Proto-Indo-European — , 

178 note, 227 f . 
Concept, 12, 66; called signified, 67, 

103, 113 f. 
Consanguinity and linguistic com- 
munity, 222 
Consonants, 48, 57 f.; middle — or 

tenues, 35 
Construction and structure, 178 
Co-ordinating faculty, 13 
Cords, vocal — , 41 
Curtius, 3 

Darmsteter, 32 

Delimiting of linguistic units, 104 f . ; 
— of phonemes, 38 

Dentals, 45 

Derivatives, products of analogy, 

Deschamps, 25 

Diachrony, 81; see also Linguistics, 

Dialectal, borrowed — forms, 156 

Dialects, natural — do not exist, 
202; distinction between — and 
languages, 203 f.; — and literary 
language, 21, 195 

Diez, 5 

Differences, role of — in creating 
values, 114 f., 117 f.; there are 
only — in language, 120 

Differentiation, linguistic — on con- 
tinuous territory, 199 f . ; — on 
separate territories, 208 f . 

Diphthong, implosive link, 61; "as- 
cending" — , 61 

Diversity of languages, 191 f . ; — 
among related languages, 191, 
197; absolute — , 192 

Dominus, etymology of — , 226 

Doublets, nonphonetic character of 

— , 115 f. 
Dualities, linguistic — , 8 

Economy, political — , 79 

Entities, concrete — of language, 
102 f . ; abstract — , 137 f . 

Ethnic unity, 223 f.; Italic and Ger- 
man — , 226 

Ethnography and linguistics, 6, 20, 

Etruscans and Latins, 223 

Etymology, folk — , 173 f.; — with 
and without deformation, 174; in- 
complete — , 174 f.; — compared 
with analogy, 174 f . 

Etymology and orthography, 28, 31 ; 
uncertainty of — , 225 f.; defini- 
tion, 173 

Evolution, linguistic — , 8 ; — begins 
in speaking, 18, 98; — of gram- 
matical facts, 142; see Changes, 

Expiration, 42 f . 

Explosion, 51 f.; duration of — , 60 

Extension, geographical — of lan- 
guages, 21; see Linguistics, geo- 

Facts, grammatical — and linguistic 
units, 122 

Faculty of speech, 9f. 

Families of languages, 6, 191 f.; 
Indo-European family, 2, 204 f ., 
209 f.; Bantu — , 192; Finno-Ugric 
— , 192; — have no permanent 
traits, 228 f.; Ural-Atlaic — , 230 

Fashion, 75, 151 

Formulas, articulatory — for 
sounds, 44 

Fortuitous character of a language- 
state, 85 

Fricatives, 46 

Furtive sounds, 54 f ., 220 

Gillieron, 31 note, 32 note, 202 
Glottis, 41 f. 
Gothic, 216 

Grades of the vocalic system, 4 
Grammar, definition, 134; tradi- 
tional or classical — , 1, 82; — is 



normative and static, 1, 82; gen- 
eral — , 100; "historical" — , 134, 
142, 143 note 

Grammont, 32 note 

Grimm, 3, 25 

Gutturals, 44, 46; palatals, 44, 46; 
velars, 45, 46 and note 

h, aspirate — , 48 ; in French, 32 f . 

Harmony, vocalic — of the Ural- 
Altaic languages, 230 

Hiatus, 59 f. 

Hirt, 224 

History of linguistics, If., 81 f.; re- 
lations between political — and 
phonetic changes, 150 

Holds or sistants, 52 and note 

Identity, synchronic — , 107 f . ; dia- 

chronic — , 181 f . 
Idiom, 191 f. 

Immutability of the sign, 71 f . 
Implosion, 51 f.; duration of — , 60 f. 
Indirect spellings, 29; fluctuating — , 

29 f . ; see Writing 
Indo-European, characteristics of 

— , 229 
Inflection, 185; zero — , 185 
Institution, language is a social — , 

10, 16 
Intercourse or unifying force, 205 f.; 

two forms of — , 206 
Interjections, 69 
Isogloss lines, 203 

Jespersen, 40 note, 42 note 
Jones, 2 

Koine or literary Greek, 196 
Kuhn, 3, 204, 224 

I, dental, guttural, nasal, and pa- 
latal — 47 

Labials, 45 

Labio-dentals, 46 

Language, norm of the facts of 
speech, 9; — is social, homogen- 
ous, and concrete, 14 f.; — is dis- 
tinct from speaking, 14 f ., 17 f ., 77, 
165; — is not a name-giving sys- 
tem, 16, 65; — and speaking are 

interdependent, 18; how — exists, 
19; — is a form, not a substance, 
113, 122; languages and dialects, 

Languages, Germanic — , 5, 216; 
Romance — , 5, 213, 217; Semitic, 
227, 230 

Larch, 96 

Larynx, 41 f. 

Lateral consonants, 47 f. 

Lautverschiebung , see Mutation, 

Law, Verner's — , 145 

Laws, linguistic — , 91 f . ; synchronic 
— are general but not imperative, 
92 f.; diachronic — are impera- 
tive but not general, 93; phonetic 
— , 93 f . ; wrong statement of 
phonetic — , 145 f.; — of alterna- 
tion, 158 

Least effort, cause of phonetic 
changes, 148 

Leskien, 5 

Lexicology, a part of grammar, 135 

Limiting of arbitrariness, basis for 
the study of language, 133 f . 

Linguistics is a part of semiology, 
15 f. ; — of language and — of 
speaking, see Language; external 
and internal — , 20 f.; synchronic 
or static — , 81, 99 f.; "historical," 
diachronic, or evolutionary, 81, 
99, 140 f.; geographical — , 191 f. 

Liquids, 44, 47 f. 

Lithuanian, 24, 216 

Loan-words, 21, 36, 155 f., 225 

Mechanism of language, 127 f., 130, 

Meillet, 92 note 

Meter, 36 

Method, comparative — , 3f.; — of 
external and of internal Unguis- 
tics, 22 f.; — of synchronic and 
diachronic linguistics, 90 f.; pros- 
pective and retrospective — , 212 f . 

Migrations, 204 f.; theory of — , 209 

Millardet, 202 note 

Morphology, inseparable from syn- 
tax, 135 

Morris, 16 note 



Motivation, 131 f. 

Movements, facilitating articulatory 

— , 55 
Miiller, 3 

Mutability of the sign, 74 f. 
Mutation, consonantal — , 25, 144, 


Names denoting kinship in Proto- 
Indo-European, 225 f . 
Nasalized sounds, 43 
Nasals, 45; voiceless — , 45 
Naville, 16 note 
Neogrammarians, 5, 184 
Non-sonants, 57 f. 
Nyrop, 36 

Occlusives, 45 f . 

Old, three meanings of the word 

— applied to language, 215 f. 
Old Slavic, 22, 217 
Onomatopoeia, 69 
Opposition and difference, 121 
Orthography, 25 f . ; see Writing and 

Osthoff, 5 
Opening sounds, 52 

Palatals, 46 f. 

Palate, 41 

Paleontology, linguistic — , 224 

Panchronic viewpoint, 95 f . 

Paradigms, inflectional — , 127 

Participle, present — , 96 

Parts of speech, 109, 138 

Paul, 5 

Peak, vocalic — , 57 

Permutation, synonym of alterna- 
tion, 160 

Perspective, synchronic and dia- 
chronic — ,81, 87, 90; prospective 
and retrospective — , 212 f. 

Philology, method of — , 1, 7; com- 
parative — , 2 

Phonation, unrelated to language, 18 

Phonemes, fixed number of — , 15, 
34, 40, 119, 220; their delimita- 
tion, 38, 42 f.; their description, 
39 f.; — are differential, 54, 119, 
221 ; — and sounds, 66 ; their syn- 

tagmatic and associative relations, 
130 f. 

Phonetics, 32 f.; — and grammar, 
17 f ., 152 ; phonetic means non- 
significant, 18, 140 f.; — is a part 
of diachronic linguistics, 140 

Phonographic recordings, 23 

Phonological species, 40, 53 

Phonology, 32-64; wrongly called 
phonetics, 32 f. ; — is a part of 
speaking, 33; combinatory — , 
50 f. 

Physiology and linguistics, 7 

Physiology of sounds, see Phonol- 

Pictet, 216, 224 

Plural and dual, 116 

Polite formulas, 68 

Pott, 3 

Prefix, 187 f. 

Prehistory and linguistics, 6, 223 f. 

Prepositions, unknown in Proto- 
Indo-European, 180 

Preservation of linguistic forms, 173 

Preverbs, unknown in Proto-Indo- 
European, 180 

Procedure and process, distinction 
between — , 176 

Pronunciation and writing, 29 f. ; — 
determined by etymology, 31 ; — 
corrupted by writing, 31 f.; rela- 
tive freedom of — , 119 

Proto-Indo-European, 228 f . 

Provincialism and intercourse, 205 f . 

Psychology, social — and linguistics, 
7, 16 

r, trilled — and burr, 47 

Race and language, 222 f. 

Radical or theme, 185 f . 

Reading and writing, 34 

Reality, synchronic — , 109; dia- 
chronic — , 181 

Reconstruction, linguistic — , 218 f. 

Relations, sjmtagmatic and associa- 
tive — , 122 f . ; their interdepend- 
ence, 128 f.; their role in determ- 
ining phonemes, 130 f.; — are 
the basis for the divisions of 
grammar, 136 f . 

Rhotocization, 144, 146 



Ritschl, 1 

Root, definition, 186; characteristics 
of the — in German, 186 f . ; — in 
French, 187; — in the Semitic 
languages, 187, 230 

Roudet, 40 note 

Sanskrit, discovery of — , 2 f.; exag- 
gerated importance of — , 215 f.; 
age of — , 216 

Schleicher, 3, 4, 231 

Schmidt, 203, 209, 224 

Semantics, 16 note 

Semiology, definition, 16; based 
mainly on systems of arbitrary 
signs, 67 f . 

Semi-vowels, 48 

Sentence, 124; — as a unit, 106; — 
equivalents, 128 

Separation, geographical — and lin- 
guistic differentiation, 208 f . 

Shift in the relationship between 
the signifier and the signified, 75 

Sievers, 5, 40 note, 58, 61, 62 

Sign, linguistic — , its composition, 
66 f.; its immutability, 71 f.; its 
mutability, 74 f.; — considered in 
its totality, 120 f.; unmotivated 
and relatively motivated signs, 
131 f.; zero — , 87, 118, 185, 187 

Signification, 114 f. 

Signified, 67, 102 f.; see Signifier 

Signifier, definition, 67 ; linearity of 
— , 70, 123 ; — exists only through 
the signified and vice versa. 102 f . 

Silbenbildend and silbisch, 59, 61 

Sociology and linguistics, 6 

Solidarities, syntagmatic and associ- 
ative — , 127 f ., 133 

Sonant, 57 ; Proto-Indo-European 
sonants, 51, 63 

Sonority of phonemes, 43; role of 
— in syllabication, 58 

Sound, complexity of — ,8; — and 
auditory impression, 38 f.; laryn- 
geal — , 42 f.; — and noise, 48; — 
is not language, 110 

Sound-image, 12, 15, 66 note; — is 
psychological, 66; — is called sig- 
nifier, 67 

Sounds, classification of — , 43 f.; 

closing and opening — , 52; fur- 
tive — , 54 f ., 220 ; shapelessness of 
— , 111. 

Speaking, an individual act, 14; — 
is distinct from language, see Lan- 
guage; mode of existence of — , 
19; — is the seat of linguistic 
change, 19, 98, 143 note, 168 

Speaking-circuit, 11 f. 

Species, phonological — ,40; — are 
abstract, 53 f . 

Speech, language and speaking, 77; 
— is heterogenous, 9; — is a 
natural faculty, 9f.; — is articu- 
lated, 10 

Speech, parts of — , 109, 138 

SpeUing, indirect — , 29; fluctuating 
— , 29 f.; see Writing 

Spirants, 46 f . 

Stability, political — and phonetic 
changes, 150 f. 

Substratum, linguistic — and phon- 
etic changes, 151 

Subunits of words, 106, 127 f., 129, 
185 f. 

Suffix, 178; zero — , 186 

Syllable, 50, 57 f. 

Syllabic boundary, 57 f . 

Symbol, contrasted with sign, 68 f . 

Synchrony, see Linguistics, syn- 

Syntagm, definition, 122 f.; see Re- 
lations, syntagmatic 

Syntax, 135 f. 

System of language, 8, 22 f., 72 f., 
79, 113, 133; see Mechanism. 

System, phonological — , 34 f., 221. 

Tense, 116 f. 

Terminology, linguistic — is in- 
exact, 5 note; phonological — is 
imperfect, 44 

Theme or radical, 185 f. 

Thought, shapelessness of — , 111 

Time, effect of — on language, 74, 
78, 197 f. 

Trombetti, 192 

Type, linguistic — and mind of the 
social group, 227 f.; — and fami- 
lies of languages, 228 f. 



Umlaut, 24, 83 f ., 157 

Units, linguistic — , 103 f . ; complex 
— , 105 f ., 124 ; problems in defin- 
ing — , llOf.; importance of — , 
110 f.; differential character of — , 
121 £.; — and grammatical facts, 
122, 179; diachronic — , 181 

Unsilbisch, 61 

Uvula, 41 f. 

Value, linguistic — , 110 f.; its con- 
ceptual side, 114 f.; — is distinct 
from signification, 114; its ma- 
terial side, 117 f. 

Velars, 46 

Verner's law, 145 f. 

Versification, 36 

Vibrants, 47 

Vibrations, lar5mgeal — , 42 f . 

Vocalic peak, 57 

Vowels contrasted with consonants, 
48; — contrasted with sonants 
57 f.; open and closed, whispered, 
and voiceless — , 48 f . 

Waves, innovating — , 203, 206 
Weigand, 202 note 

Wenker, 202 

Wellentheorie, 209 

Whitney, 5, 10, 76 

Wolf, 1 

Words and units contrasted, 105 f ., 
113 f. 

Word-unit and phonetic changes, 94 

Writing and language, 15; necessity 
for studying — ,23; — is distinct 
from language, 23; — is not nec- 
essary for linguistic stability, 24; 

— and the literary language, 25; 

— changes less frequently than 
language, 27; etymological — , 28; 
troubles caused by — , 29; phono- 
logical — , 33 f . interpretation of 
— , 34 f . ; recording of implosion 
and explosion, 52 f., 60 f.; system 
of — compared with the system 
of language, 119 f. 

Writing, systems of — 25 f.; ideo- 
graphic — (Chinese) and pho- 
netic — , 26; syllabic — (Cypri- 
ots), 26, 39, 50; consonantal — 
(Semites), 39 

Zend, 22 

Zones, dialectal, 199 f. 

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